| 15.2°C Belfast

NHS 111 helpline firm faces allegations over social distancing in workplace

Health Secretary Mat Hancock has been urged to clarify the rules for workspaces.

Close

Sitel has denied the allegations (Jacob King/PA)

Sitel has denied the allegations (Jacob King/PA)

Sitel has denied the allegations (Jacob King/PA)

New allegations have been made about an outsourcing firm running NHS 111 services making staff work “desk to desk” in an apparent breach of coronavirus social distancing rules.

Labour has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock with “urgent concerns” about a call centre in Plymouth operated by Sitel, which denied the allegations.

MP Luke Pollard said numerous workers at the site told him that up to 200 staff are working “desk to desk” in close proximity on one floor of the building.

A coronavirus outbreak at this call centre would be devastating for the UK’s response to the pandemic and could result in more deaths in the long termLuke Pollard, Plymouth Sutton & Devonport MP

Mr Pollard said he had been told people are required to go to work or risk their employment even if they are closely associated with people who are self-isolating.

With one worker saying they are “just terrified to go to work”, Mr Pollard also said he was told there is no deep cleaning of working spaces.

“From the conversations I have had with people who work on this service I believe that these practices go against your advice on social distancing and increase the chance for the virus to spread in this environment,” he wrote to Mr Hancock.

“A coronavirus outbreak at this call centre would be devastating for the UK’s response to the pandemic and could result in more deaths in the long term.”

He urged the Cabinet minister to clarify the rules, which the Government says should keep staff two metres apart wherever possible.

One of Sitel’s two sites in Stratford-on-Avon
One of Sitel’s two sites in Stratford-on-Avon (Jacob King/PA)

Earlier this week, Sitel Group directed staff to follow stricter social distancing after the PA news agency reported a claim that space at one of its offices had been “maxed out” due to new recruits.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an employee at one of Sitel’s two sites in Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire said break rooms had been crowded and some staff recruited to the helpline had been given only around an hour’s training on guiding documents.

A Sitel spokesman said: “We are recruiting rapidly to ensure that we support the NHS to deal with the large rise in demand for advice during the coronavirus pandemic, but these claims are categorically untrue.

“Recruits receive initial training advised by the NHS along with ongoing refreshers and updates. They can refer those enquiries who need it to trained clinicians for advice. And like many organisations we have been ramping up measures to protect our staff against infection, implementing social spacing as recommended and staff being asked to sanitise their hands when they enter and leave the building.”

PA