Hays Travel Staff Get to Work on Covid Contact Tracing Operation | Coronavirus epidemic

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Hays Travel, the vacation agency that took over Thomas Cook last year, employs customer service center staff on the government’s Covid-19 contact tracing operation, the Observer and openDemocracy can reveal.

The Sunderland-based company, owned and run by married couple John and Irene Hays, embarked on the fight against the coronavirus in March, a spokesperson confirmed, as the virus spread and the healthcare industry trip was plunged into crisis. The spokesperson said Hays Travel does not have a contract directly with the government, but has been outsourced by two suppliers, which she said the company could not name due to client confidentiality.

Serco, the logistics company believed to have the largest private contract with the government for Covid-19 contact tracing, has confirmed it has contracted out Hays Travel to do some of the work, along with other companies in the travel sector and other industries. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Affairs also confirmed that: “Hays Travel has been contracted out by Serco to provide support for NHS Test and Trace. Hays Travel has also been subcontracted by Teleperformance [a French call centre “customer experience” corporation] provide limited support for FCO travel advice at the height of the pandemic and also some support for the 119 [testing contact centre] a service. “

An internal memo from Hays Travel informing staff that the company had been awarded the contact tracing contract, seen by the Observer and openDemocracy, explained to employees:

“This is about helping to call people who may have been in contact with someone with coronavirus. We have to recruit a significant number of people very quickly. “

The company told staff it wanted to employ “people you recommend, friends, family, or former colleagues – people you think would do the job very well and take care of the job. Hays Travel brand for all of us ”.

The memo said those hired to do the contact tracing would take “approximately four hours of Webex training” online and be able to start work the same day. The company spokesperson said that in fact, for Level 3 contact tracing, which involves initial calls to people who have tested positive and to the contacts they give, a nine-hour training course is provided.

Neither Serco nor Hays Travel gave details of the size or value of the subcontract for the contact tracing operation. Hays this week announced nearly 900 layoffs, saying the government’s requirement for returnees from Spain to self-quarantine for 14 days has severely affected his holiday activities.

There has been intense scrutiny and criticism of the nationwide operation to trace and speak to people who may have had close contact with those who have tested positive for the coronavirus, especially for the limited number of people. that she achieves and encouraging to isolate herself. Experts including David McCoy, professor of global public health at Queen Mary University in London, have criticized the outsourcing to private companies such as Serco and the limited training given to call center staff, and called for greater accountability of experienced local public health teams. to oversee the management of contact tracing. Blackburn with advice from Darwen, the local authority with the highest infection rate in the country, has set up its own contact tracing system due to frustrations with the national program.

A Serco employee working for NHS Test and Trace. The company has subcontracted work to Hays Travel. Photographie: Christopher Furlong / Getty

McCoy said it was “ridiculous” to have a travel agency to trace contacts of people with Covid-19, and said the minimum training provided was “woefully inadequate.”

“Talking to people who may be carriers of Covid-19 and encouraging them to self-isolate is skilled work and should ideally be done by people with public health knowledge and experience and a legitimacy to listen”, a- he declared. “It doesn’t make sense that the work that a travel agency does in a call center is disconnected from the public health system. Private outsourcing takes resources away from strengthening the frontline of public health, where capacity needs to be developed.

The spokesperson for Hays Travel responded to criticism of the limited training, stating: “The training was provided in accordance with the client’s requirements. [Serco] through our highly qualified training academy.

She said that as a tour operator, Hays is “highly qualified to deal with people with complex requirements” and that: “Our call managers meet the high standards required by our client at the level at which they operate.”

She said the idea to look for a contact tracing job originally came from an employee, in response to the slowdown in work at Hays as the virus spread and demand for vacations plummeted. Senior company officials approached a particular service center that had been hired to work on the coronavirus response but did not have enough trained staff.

“In March, at the very start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we could see our industry facing a crisis and we decided to be very proactive in trying to guarantee work for our employees – many of them do not. ‘were not eligible for the leave program, ”the spokesperson explained. “They are good people and we wanted to find work for them.”

A representative from Serco said the company does not disclose profits made on individual contracts, but that “the work we do to support governments on Covid-related work is being done at lower margins than our normal work.”

The DHSC spokesperson said: “As the public would expect, we are doing all we can to respond to this unprecedented global pandemic – this includes working with public and private sector partners as necessary.

“All contact tracers and call managers receive appropriate training and follow detailed procedures and scripts.”

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