NHS helpline firm under fire over ‘crowded’ working conditions

A call centre outsourcing firm has directed staff to follow stricter social distancing amid a claim that space at one of its offices had been “maxed out” due to new recruits.

Sitel Group, which helps to provide NHS England’s 111 advice service, said it had also increased cleaning measures following Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on Covid-19 on Monday night.

Speaking on condition of anonymity on Tuesday, a worker employed at one of Sitel’s two sites in Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire claimed some staff recruited to the 111 helpline had been given only around an hour’s training on guiding documents.

The source also said break rooms had been crowded and that bins were overflowing.

Claiming office space had been “maxed out”, the worker told the PA news agency: “There are no masks, gloves or wipes left.

“In an office of around 60 seats all they have is a stand in the middle with some kitchen roll and some disinfectant sprays.

“The agents are seated within arm’s reach of one another.

“When asking for support and advice, agents walk straight up to each other or lean over each other to point at computer screens or the phone.”

The source said some workers at the site were coming in to work regardless of the working conditions because they needed the money.

One of Sitel’s two sites in Stratford-on-Avon
One of Sitel’s two sites in Stratford-on-Avon

In a statement, Sitel Group said its UK sites remained open to continue supplying essential business support to key public services and essential business including healthcare, insurance, telecommunications and the food chain.

The statement added: “We have directed all sites to follow stricter social distancing practices in line with recent Government directives and increased cleaning measures to ensure our teams, including those with key and essential workers status, have every resource available to continue serving communities in the safest manner possible.

“We are also implementing Sitel at Home solutions when possible.

“All agents continue to receive training, in line with the guidance of the clients we serve.

“Our training tools and internal best practices have also supported many of the clients we serve at an enterprise level.”