Coronavirus contact tracer did zero work on first day as government system was not ready

James Morris
Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
On Wednesday, Boris Johnson announced at a committee that Test and Trace would go live on Thursday. However, the system has encountered major technical issues. (PA)

A contact tracer on nearly £20 an hour has said she was unable to do any work during her first shift as the government’s new coronavirus tracing system was hit by major technical issues.

The worker, who didn’t want to be named, told Yahoo News UK her shift was between 8am and noon – but finished it without even being given a login and password to access the system.

Her experience reflects other reports of major problems with the NHS Test and Trace system after it was launched on Thursday.

Describing her four-hour shift, she said: “A waste of time – and money.”

Referring to her payment, the tracer added: “I feel a bit funny about it. I was absolutely unable to do anything. I couldn’t even log on.”

She said she was only told Test and Trace would be going live on Wednesday. By the time Boris Johnson also confirmed this at the House of Commons liaison committee that afternoon, she still didn’t have any information about a login and password.

The tracer said she finally received an email at 10pm on Wednesday. It contained a link to create a login. When her shift started at 8am on Thursday, however, the link did not work.

She said the IT helpline had a waiting time of two hours. When she tried to use a live chat function online, she said she was placed 272nd in the queue.

“They put up a message in the end, saying ‘please don’t call us’.”

Meanwhile, she added: “I have no idea who my team leader is – who I can telephone personally.”

The tracer went on: “I think it’s been pretty universal that [tracers] have found great difficulty with it.

“I’m down to work again at 8am on Friday. I haven’t even got my password – I think it might be a repeat performance.

“I expected it to be a little rough, but they should have waited until next week and ironed this out.”

A former junior doctor recruited as a contact tracer also said she struggled to access the website needed to fulfil her role on Thursday.

The woman, who also chose not to be named, told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme: “I have tried to do things but they haven’t given the final log-on information to enable me to get on to the system to do the work.

Read more: Dominic Cummings 'likely' broke lockdown rules - but police to take no action

“I’ve called the help desk and they told me they are aware the server is overlooked with people trying to register this final time.”

The service – seen as key to easing lockdown restrictions – has been rolled out across England with the help of 25,000 contact tracers. An accompanying app has been delayed by several weeks.

The Department for Health admitted “some staff initially encountered issues logging on to their systems”.

Meanwhile, MPs said they were told the programme would not be operational at a local level until the end of next month.

Baroness Dido Harding, executive chairwoman of NHS Test and Trace, is said to have made the admission in a call with parliamentarians on Thursday morning.

Labour former minister Ben Bradshaw told PA: “It does seem rather worrying to me that the government keeps launching things or announcing things that either aren’t ready or it cannot deliver on.”

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