Between March and May, I supervised call centre agents working on the DFE coronavirus helpline, the PHE coronavirus helpline and the NHS 111 Covid response team. This involved listening to hundreds of calls across the three services.
All our call handlers on all three lines had very little to do, most took around 3-5 calls per day, even throughout the peak of the crisis. Very few if any of the hundreds of calls I listened to involved people that were unwell or might have had Covid, most were queries about the minutiae of rules and regulations. The only concerning calls were from care homes and we were woefully ill equipped to deal with them. We were told just to direct them to guidance online. They usually complained the guidance was unhelpful and inadequate, but we had nothing more to offer them.
The PHE helpline was on the number that they would usually ring for their local health protection team. Most of those coming through had no idea they weren’t speaking to the usual HPT professionals but instead a minimum wage call handler with just an hour’s training. The most common request from care homes was for tests to be carried out but we were unable to arrange this and had no guidance to give them whatsoever on how they dealt with symptomatic residents until about a months after lockdown was implemented, too late in retrospect.