A Devon 111 call handler has described working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic as ‘unsafe’ and ‘awful’, and claims it is impacting on staffing levels.
It is alleged more than 20 employees are currently self-isolating after five members of Exeter control room staff tested positive for Covid-19.
Devon Doctors, which runs the NHS service, has not disclosed how many of its employees have tested positive for coronavirus or are currently self-isolating.
However, it has assured that its premises adhere to government guidance and are Covid-secure.
A control room employee, who asked to remain anonymous, has told how they fear for the safety of themselves and that of their colleagues.
The employee told Devon Live: “Devon Doctors are refusing to do a deep clean and say that the cleaners wiping down the desks once a day is sufficient. There is also no hand sanitiser.
“Before Boris Johnson announced the last lockdown we had clinically vulnerable people in the control room and they were given no support. There can be up to 40 people in there at one time.
“The only means of testing we have is having our temperature read, but it appears to be faulty because everyone’s reading is the same. We have tried telling them, but our concerns are ignored.
“We are not allowed to have windows open, and the screens that are up between desks don’t cover you. They don’t go back far enough and you’re still close to the person sat next to you.
“It took three days for staff to receive communication advising that there had been positive cases. There have been previous outbreaks.
“Suggestions have been made by staff of alternative places to work from, but there is no flexibility offered. The admin team, who work in the same building, are now working from home and yet we are unable to use that space where there would be more room to socially distance and where the windows can be opened.
“It is the most unsafe place to be. It’s absolutely awful and shocking. I don’t know how it’s still up and running.
“It’s probably one of the worst companies to work for at the best of times, let alone without coronavirus. You are seen as just a bum on a seat.
“We are so short staffed as people are isolating and some staff are saying they are having to self-isolate just so that they don’t have to be in the work environment.
“Staff are being offered double time to work at weekends to cover shifts. Devon Doctors had a bad Care Quality Commission report last year so you think they would be wise up to what needs to be done, but they’re not.”
In response to the claims, Devon Doctors said the wellbeing of their staff and clinicians is paramount and that, throughout this pandemic, it has sought to be open and transparent with them about the health and safety measures in place, and has actively encouraged concerns to be raised.
A spokesperson for Devon Doctors said: “Wherever we are able to we ask staff to work from home. Unfortunately, the nature of our business is such that this is not possible for some roles.
“In collaboration with our external health and safety consultants, we undertook a thorough risk assessment of all of our workplaces in July 2020.
“As a result of this exercise, a raft of measures, which is under continual review, was implemented to ensure these premises adhered to government guidance and were Covid-secure.
“In particular, Perspex screens were put up to separate workstations at our Exeter HQ, while staff are also required to sit more than 2m apart whenever possible.
“While these screens are fully compliant with government guidelines, we are actively exploring options to offer our staff and clinicians even greater protection.
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“Unfortunately, a number of operational and technical issues mean that, at this point in time, it is simply not possible for us to utilise some of the vacant floorspace at Osprey House.
“The building is routinely cleaned twice a day and when an employee tests positive for Covid the professional cleaning company we employ ensures this is done in accordance with government guidelines.
“While government guidance allows the clinically vulnerable to work, in addition to all the other safeguards we have implemented, we have gone to great lengths to support all those who have identified themselves as being in this group.
“We are not aware of any issues with the thermometer we use to test the temperature of staff before they are allowed to start work, while hand sanitiser is readily available at all times.
“In line with NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app guidance for Covid-secure workplaces, we ask that staff turn off the NHS test and trace app while they are working.
“However, as required by PHE guidance, when we receive confirmation of a positive test for a member of staff who was on site in the 48-hour window prior to their symptoms commencing, or the date of their test if they were asymptomatic, we contact all those with who they might have come into contact, while at work, to make them aware of the positive test and alert to any symptoms they might have.
“While the situation is changing on a daily basis, we have a number of staff who are self-isolating, though only a small percentage of them have tested positive for Covid.”