George Monbiot’s revelation that unqualified call handlers in the test-and-trace system are being inappropriately promoted to clinical contact case workers is astonishing (How teenagers ended up operating crucial parts of England’s test and trace system, 28 October. Has nobody in the Department of Health and Social Care, who requested Serco to initiate this, realised that there is a large pool of available, experienced people capable, with minimal training, of making phone calls involving clinical content to possibly distressed Covid patients? These are the tens of thousands of retired doctors in England; 28,000 retired or unlicensed doctors have been re-registered by the General Medical Council, but very few have since been employed.
There could be many more as the GMC set the maximum length of time since retirement at six years and this could be extended for this work. There is an even greater number of retired senior ward nurses who could be utilised. I am sure many doctors and nurses would take on this role for no reward other than the continued payment of their good NHS pensions and the feeling that they were playing a useful part in controlling the pandemic, so it could cost the government nothing.
Dr David Maisey
Retired consultant, Belaugh, Norfolk
• I tested positive for coronavirus on 11 October. I am a practising GP and have a daughter at a local sixth form. Two of my daughter’s year group had tested positive for coronavirus the previous week. My daughter tested positive on 13 October.
On 15 October I was contacted by test and trace. The caller asked how I was and advised me to call 111 if I was feeling unwell. She read from a script advising me of my legal obligations. No attempt was made to identify how I might have contracted the infection, nor indeed who I might have passed it on to. On learning that I was a GP, the caller asked for my opinion on face coverings and whether there was any point to them.
Three questions come to mind. Why has no attempt been made by a suitably qualified individual to identify the source of my infection or follow up potential contacts? Given the incidence of asymptomatic spread among teenagers, why was testing not offered to the whole of my daughter’s sixth form after two confirmed positive cases? And why is test and trace being staffed by people who are questioning government advice? Quite apart from the money being wasted, they could be doing more harm than good.
• As an NHS consultant, I have been alternately appalled and amused by my recent personal experience of the £12bn “world-beating” test-and-trace system. My husband tested positive for Covid on 24 October and subsequently received his first test-and-trace call. As there were no alternative phone numbers for our children he was told he would be called back three separate times so that he could be given the information for each of them individually, and this is indeed what happened.
Three other members of our household subsequently became unwell and tested positive and, in each case, all of the others were called again individually, the children on a parent’s phone number – 20 planned calls in all. We were told these would be repeated a further three times during our isolation period.
After the first day of fielding these, I set my phone to divert incoming calls from the 0300 number to voicemail. In less than two days I had 41 messages. It’s not preventing any Covid, but presumably all of this activity looks great for their numbers?
Consultant in paediatric intensive care, Bristol Royal hospital for children
• My niece is a student in Manchester and, from June to August she got a holiday job, employed by Intelling to trace contacts of Covid cases. She had a day of training on how the system worked and what scripts to use. She worked four days on, four days off, on 12-hour shifts at £9.42 an hour. She had no calls for the first four weeks. In total, over three months, she contacted three cases, two of which went to voicemail. A great holiday job, but a monumental waste of taxpayers’ money and possible contributor to the failure to contain the virus.
Dr Sylvia Berney
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