Nearly 200 NHS jobs axed at national vaccine helpline headquartered in Edinburgh
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The centre handles booster jab and flu vaccination appointments and previously also carried out contact tracing. NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) said moving out of the emergency phase of the pandemic meant they needed less staff but stressed that the service provided wouldn’t be impacted.
A pool of temporary NHS workers known as bank staff have been told they are no longer needed and private call centre contractors will be drafted in to meet future spikes in demand instead.
Workers have told the Evening News they fear that relying on commercial contractors will be a ‘disaster’. Several also claimed management has ignored concerns about patient safety and problems causing appointment delays.
It comes after one of the previous call centre operators used by the Scottish Government went into liquidation.
As the core team reduces from 240 to 63 contracted NHS staff are being asked to apply for the reduced number of contact centre roles or other posts in the health service. NSS said a number of fixed-term contracts will end and redundancies will be necessary.
One worker who asked not to be named said: "What this means is that when it’s busy they will replace bank staff with call centre, private contractors. I was involved in quality control and during that time nine out of ten mistakes that were made on the helpline were made by contractors. We all recognise the need to adjust for less busy periods but they are effectively getting rid of most of the NHS staff. It’s privatisation. The NHS already has a bank of staff that can meet demand at peak times, there’s no need to move to private contractors.”
He claimed during omicron surge operators were taken off duty to do an online Christmas pub quiz, at a time when thousands were in the queue to get through to the helpline and facing up to an hour wait.
"We were taken offline and away from life saving calls. I left the quiz in disgust. It should have been done after-hours. Management told us not to use our anonymous whistleblowing service, and instead to raise issue with the same management we had concerns about. The management kept on were the same who ignored concerns raised by staff and refused to make changes staff told them would improve things.
"I have been shocked and aghast at management decisions taken by my senior managers and how the service has been run.”
NHS bosses said downsizing the call centre was necessary to “provide an efficient service and value for money” and added that the National Contact Centre (NCC) would "continue to support staff" affected by the changes.
One operator previously used at the helpline Go-centric – which was handed £10million of public contracts – collapsed in November 2022 leaving 650 staff who were paid about £9 an hour out of work.
Martin Morrison, operations director at the NCC said: “The number of posts within the core team will fall from 240 to 62 and all impacted staff are being fully supported. The difficult but necessary decision has been made to remove the ‘bank’ entirely. There are currently around 250 colleagues within the bank. Scotland’s NCC has always been NHS-led. However, partnering with commercial suppliers allowed the NCC to scale at pace to meet the fast-changing demands of an unprecedented global pandemic. The quality of services provided by commercial suppliers, including Go-Centric, has matched that of our NHS colleagues.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “This will have no current impact on service delivery at the NCC which is working to support those impacted to find alternative employment.
“Many of the staff have already been redeployed to work in the health service and the Scottish Government has offered advice and support to Go-centric through our dedicated redundancy support service, Partnership Action for Continuing Employment.
“The NCC played a critical part in supporting contact tracing but is now focused on managing the Covid vaccination helplines. As we continue to recover from the pandemic, call volumes to the NCC may decrease, as we improve our online booking portal and digital products. We will continue to work closely with the NCC to maintain good levels of customer service.“