NHS 111 helpline firm faces allegations over social distancing in workplace

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 operated by Sitel in Plymouth.

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.

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

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.

The group is yet to comment on the latest allegations.

But an earlier statement said: “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.

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