QN and QNI Director of Programmes, Sue Boran, talks about becoming a Test and Trace call handler.

Prior to the arrival of Covid-19, I had been working full time at the QNI and then quite suddenly the office closed and we all started working from home. Along with many other small charities the QNI has had to review its financial situation in order to remain operational and sustainable. This has meant furloughing some staff and reducing the hours for others.

So finding myself working 0.5 with two and half days to fill, I was alerted to the opportunity to sign up to be a Test and Trace call handler. I am a nurse and so registered my interest thinking that this small piece of the puzzle, along with all the other pieces would help in some way to control the pandemic. From there the emails started arriving.

The NHS Test and Trace service involves following up people who have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) or have had close contact with someone who has tested positive. The service then helps trace their close recent contacts and notifies them that they must self-isolate at home to help stop the spread of the virus. This will enable any potential spread of infection to be traced and tracked down and any new infection isolated.  This would then provide an early warning about local or national increases in infection rates. Well that’s the theory!

The reality was that I was one of the early expressers of interest and although the Government wanted this up and running as soon as possible, the systems and training were more extensive than I thought imaginable. Reflecting on it now – of course the systems would be complicated and secure. We are dealing with people’s private information, and data requires protection and careful handling to prevent security breaches.

There followed a series of emails that would enable the Test and Trace call handlers to be set up on the various systems. Firstly you undertake the online training with NHS Professionals, but once I had completed this over the course of eight hours it all transferred to e-Learning for Health and although I had completed a lot of the requirements, every week there were new additions and amendments to take on board. The systems for test and trace were clearly being tested and adjusted before going live on what we all thought would be June 1st 2020.

The NHS Test and Trace service involves following up people who have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) or have had close contact with someone who has tested positive. The service then helps trace their close recent contacts and notifies them that they must self-isolate at home to help stop the spread of the virus.

Sue Boran QN

In all there were 28 separate pieces of e-Learning to read and complete – telephone call handler scripts, action cards, escalation of queries, frequently asked questions, managing non-responders, system demonstrations, user guides, information and governance, safeguarding for adults and children assessments and data security awareness assessments, the last two requiring a pass mark of 80%. I found all of the step by step guides and resources very useful, including how to book shifts and be paid.

There are different Tiers of call handlers. I am in Tier 2, an NHS professional, responsible for calling those who have received a positive test and to identify all their activities and contacts. The contacts are then assigned to Tier 3 for follow up and advice as the least complex cases. At any time, Tier 3 call handlers can escalate calls to Tier 2 and Tier 2 to Tier 1. Tier 1 risk assess and manage the most complex cases, contacts and high risk situations in a regionalised network. There are also automatic escalations if, for example, a person tests positive and the Tier 2 call handler identifies they work in a care home, prison, school or hospital setting.

Next we had a series of emails, with instructions to download and know how to use Amazon Work Space, referred to as AWS , emails with passwords and logins for Contact Trace (CTAS) otherwise known as NHS Test & Trace, Synergy, Sitel (the technology and software people) and Ring Central (the all-inclusive phone system) – all the software and systems we would need in order to start the tracing, as well as NHS Professionals for booking shifts on their Bank.  I quickly became awash with registration codes, access codes, usernames, passwords, requests to change passwords, all having to be different for each system – NHSP, e-Learning for Health, AWS, CTAS, Synergy, Sitel and Ring Central.

During this time I became aware of a Queen’s Nurse WhatsApp group whose members were doing exactly the same as me and I joined only to find that everyone was having the same frustrations, but the great thing about support groups is that you’re never alone and if you’re having a problem, someone else will have worked out how to sort it and so we managed it among ourselves. It has become a very useful, fun and collaborative effort and we all collectively panicked when it was announced that the system would be live from May 29th! Thankfully, some of us had been able to do ‘dummy’ calls to test the systems and practice the scripts and they provided great insight for us all.

I have been doing shifts every Monday and Friday with no contacts yet to trace, just checking and re-reading all the training. Finally, after several shifts where I continued this to make sure I was up to date with the latest information, on Friday 29th May I was assigned my first case to call. Rather than overthink this or panic, I just ensured that I had set up and logged into all the systems and made the call – I was excited, a bit nervous, hopeful that the systems would work and glad to get going.

There was no answer! So I left a voicemail and tried the other number provided. Again no answer! I left a message, feeling so deflated. I had another case assigned to me later on the same shift, but the same thing happened.

Some of the QNs have had a few cases to complete, but others have had none and the trickle is slow, although the complex systems have been set up very quickly. I phoned the team leader and she also confirmed that the last few days have been extremely quiet and it will take some time to really get going. As with any project this size, there are bound to be problems to solve. I am grateful to my fellow Queen’s Nurses who have been such a support and a laugh over the past few weeks!

I am hopeful that there will be more to report in a few weeks’ time!

Sue Boran QN


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