Test and Protect staff struggling in ‘toxic’ work environment

Whistleblower tells STV News that employees on the service are 'overworked, not properly trained and stressed'.

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images

By Kevin Scott and Louise Scott

Staff working for Scotland’s Test and Protect Covid-19 tracing service are struggling to carry out their duties in a “toxic” environment as they try and deal with a huge number of calls, a whistleblower has told STV News.

The whistleblower, who STV News is identifying only as Brian, said employees are ‘overworked, not properly trained and stressed’ as the system struggles to deal with a record number of coronavirus infections.

The Test and Protect programme is designed to reduce the risk of the virus spreading and was rolled out across Scotland in May, 2020.

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But there are concerns the service is struggling to cope.

Brian said staff are overwhelmed with the current volume of calls being received, adding that morale is at an all-time low.

He said: “People are coming out of training and going straight on to do contact tracing calls that are not done to the standard that they should be, not done within the time that they should be, which is putting people at risk especially contacts of index cases – they are still going about their daily business because nobody has been in touch with them.

“I’m pretty tired, it’s making me really anxious at work, I feel like this needs to be addressed. A number of staff feel like their concerns are not getting listened to, they get swept under the carpet by the senior management team.

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“The amount of people who are actually leaving the service – because of the way the service is – is ridiculous and a number of core staff, who are actually contracted, have given up their roles to apply for bank work because the work they are getting as a core member of staff really isn’t flexible at all.

“It’s a really sort of toxic, not nice place to be. Certainly, with somewhere like the NHS I would have expected it to be much more organised, people’s wellbeing should be well looked after but at the moment it’s very much not.

“There are people leaving daily because of it and unless they get it sorted they’re going to see a mass exodus of staff and the situation will just get worse.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday it’s inevitable that Test and Protect would come under increased pressure when the number of cases across the country is high.

“They’re doing a fantastic job and I understand when people are under pressure it affects morale but please know how important a job you’re doing if you work in Test and Protect and how appreciated you are for doing it.”

Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus daily briefing, she said: “It’s a statement of the obvious that when case numbers are rising, Test and Protect is going to be under more pressure because the volume of work that it is doing is bigger.

“We support Test and Protect to bring on surge capacity and to do different things to cope with that but we can’t take away completely the pressure of having between 3-4000 cases being reported every day because that is 3-4000 cases that all have to be contact-traced and all of the follow-up work done there, so we’ll continue to support Test and Protect to work well.

“They’re doing a fantastic job and I understand when people are under pressure it affects morale but please know how important a job you’re doing if you work in Test and Protect and how appreciated you are for doing it.”

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Sturgeon also urged the public to do their bit to help the programme.

“If you test positive and you know you have been in close contact with another individual, you don’t have to wait for Test and Protect to tell them that, you can tell them that straight away,” she said.

“This is principally my responsibility as the head of the government to make sure Test and Protect has all the resources it needs but as with every other aspect of this virus we can all help in dealing with the situation that we are currently facing.”

The concerns over the running of Test and Protect come as another four deaths and 3823 new cases of coronavirus were recorded in Scotland.

And Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the Scottish Government should “call in the cavalry” to ensure the number of contact tracers is increased after Scotland hit a record high level of Covid infections on Thursday. 

He said: “The current Test and Protect system is failing us and potentially putting thousands at risk.

“Plummeting performance and the decision to turn off some contact tracing activities altogether because of a shortage of capacity must set alarm bells ringing. 

“With Scotland facing its highest level of infections yet, now is the time to call in the contact tracing cavalry and ensure that there are enough staff to reverse this week’s collapse in contact tracing performance. This is the test of whether the Scottish Government has the extra staff that it promised would be available if necessary.“

Whistleblower Brian told STV News that some people who have tested positive for coronavirus have not received a call from Test and Protect up to 48 hours later, adding that’s “really not how it should be working”.

He said: “In the last few weeks, it’s been quite a stressful environment to be part of, a lot of the staff there are really overworked. The people who are working there are being moved around various phonelines throughout the day.

“At points, they receive training, for example, contact training or tracing or vaccine enquiry, and then they’re not put on that phone line for three weeks, so when it comes to then working on the line they’ve not been able to use their training, they don’t know what they’re doing. They’ll be told in the morning ‘you’re on this phoneline’ and then an hour later they might get moved somewhere else.

“There are far too many calls coming in for the amount of staff that there is, they’re making people work on a really unflexible six-week rota where some people are getting one weekend off in six, or if they do get two days off during the week it could be a Monday and then it could be a Friday, it’s really, really disorganised.”

Brian also said people were being asked to use their annual leave if they want to attend appointments, such as vaccinations.

“A number of people have asked for time off to attend appointments – that could be an hour or two throughout the day – and they’ve been told they need to take a full days’ annual leave to do that, even though they’ve offered to make up time,” he said

“A number of team leaders – 50 of them – have had to get together to raise a grievance with the team management because we’re having to manage contact trace practitioners who are the same level [but] our workload is tenfold to theirs.”

“This has been an issue that has been going on for a number of months, it’s been raised with team management a number of times but they’ve been very much slow on the comeback – they’ve cancelled meetings they were meant to attend because they didn’t want to try and address the situations but I would say, certainly over the last week or two, since the numbers have started to rise it’s been very, very disorganised.”

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Annie Wells said the Scottish Government had to ensure the “failing Track and Protect scheme” is working efficiently. 

She said: “We welcome the SNP Government’s decision to finally set up drop-in clinics in each health board on Monday and strongly advise people to get their first or second dose at these clinics if it is faster than waiting for their appointment.

“Vaccinations and an effective Track and Trace programme are both vital to our way out of restrictions and resuming normality.”

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said the system is “reaching breaking point”, and accused the Government of a “dereliction of duty” because of an apparent failure to prepare for an increase in cases as restrictions were eased.

Before Friday’s briefing, Baillie had flagged contact tracing figures she said show the proportion of Test and Protect cases closed within 24 hours halved from a peak of 80% in early April to 40% in June.

Meanwhile, there has been a record-high 25,107 new coronavirus cases identified in Scotland over the last seven days.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We take concerns about staff wellbeing and workload very seriously.  The Scottish Government is clear that all NHS staff have the right to speak up and that any issues relating to the working environment should be appropriately, thoroughly and robustly managed, in accordance with NHS Scotland policy. 

“As the First Minister directly acknowledged today, our contact tracing staff across the country are doing an extraordinary job.  They are a core part of our frontline pandemic response, and their resilience and adaptability in the wake of significantly rising case numbers in recent weeks has been simply outstanding. 

“We continue to work proactively with health boards, directors of public health and with the National Contact Centre to further streamline processes with a view to significantly reducing the workload intensity associated with current high case volumes. 

“Additionally, we continue to support ongoing recruitment processes in local contact tracing teams to ensure that teams are capable of deploying workforce in line with agreed scheduling requirements.”

‘Human swan’ injured and support staff member killed in accident

Dan Burton dies as a result of paramotor accident in the western Highlands and Sacha Dench seriously injured.

Andrew Milligan via PA Media
Paramotorist Sacha Dench was seriously injured in the accident.

Sacha Dench, who was attempting a world-first circumnavigation of mainland Britain to raise awareness about climate change, has been seriously injured after a paramotor accident in the western Highlands of Scotland.

Dan Burton, a member of her support staff, was killed during the incident.

Ms Dench had been dubbed the “human swan” as she attempted a 3000-mile Round Britain Climate Challenge ahead of the COP26 conference due to start on October 31.

In statement, the trustees of the Conservation Without Borders, which was founded by Ms Dench, said the accident happened near Loch Na Gainmhich in the far north of Scotland.

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The statement said: “We are very sorry to have to confirm that Dan Burton, the support paramotorist has died as a result of the accident.

“Sacha Dench is seriously injured and is being treated in hospital. Her injuries are serious but not life-threatening

“Both highly experienced paramotorists, our thoughts are with the family of Dan Burton to whom we offer our sincere condolences.

“The incident was attended by police and medics and enquiries are underway to establish the details of the accident.”

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The statement added that the families of those involved had been informed and that the Round Britain Climate Challenge would now be put on hold.

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Major hunt for missing seven-year-old boy in Ayrshire

Public urged to search sheds and gardens after Carson Shepherd goes missing from his home in New Cumnock.

Police Scotland
Carson Shepherd has gone missing in East Ayrshire.

A seven-year-old boy has gone missing in East Ayrshire, sparking a major police search in the area.

Carson Shepherd was last seen in Afton Bridgend in New Cumnock.

Members of the public are being urged to check their garden sheds, gardens and garages as part of the search effort.

Anyone with information should contact police on 101, quoting incident number 2021 0919- 3162.

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Three men killed and five injured in M8 motorway crash

The westbound carriageway was closed near junction 31 following crash early on Sunday morning.

MarioGuti via IStock
Police investigating fatal road crash in Renfrewshire.

Three men have died after their car left the M8 motorway and crashed early on Sunday morning.

The men, two aged 27 and one aged 31, were pronounced dead at the scene.

Five other men were taken to hospital for treatment of serious but non-life threatening injuries.

The incident happened at around 5.05am on Sunday, when a blue Audi Q7 left the road on the M8 westbound near to junction 31 in Renfrewshire.

A 35-year-old man has been arrested in connection with road traffic offences.

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Inspector Darren Cook, of Police Scotland’s Road Policing Unit, said: “Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of those who have lost their lives as a result of this crash.

“Our enquiries are currently ongoing to establish the full circumstances surrounding the incident and we are seeking assistance from the public to help with our investigation.

“Although this happened in the early hours of the morning, we believe there may be other road users that can help with our enquiry.

“I would ask if you were driving in the area around the time of the incident or have possible dashcam footage that you come forward and speak to officers.

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“Police can be contacted by calling 101 and quoting incident number 0860 of Sunday, 19 September, 2021.”

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Demand for GP services ‘has never been higher in Scotland’

Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said he saw double the patients he would normally have seen in pre-pandemic times last week.

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Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said demand for GP services is 'unsustainable' as Covid cases continue to rise.

The demand for GP services is “unsustainable” as Covid cases continue to rise across Scotland, claims one NHS doctor.

Dr Sandesh Gulhane, shadow cabinet secretary for health, said he saw double the amount of patients he would normally have seen in pre-pandemic times last week.

Speaking on The Sunday Show, the Glasgow MSP said: “The demand for GPs has never been higher.

“On Monday, I had 80 patient contacts in general practice. That’s not safe, that’s not sustainable, but it’s the level of demand we’re facing.”

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He added: “Pre-Covid you would have about 20 patients in the morning, and you’d have about 15 to 20 in the afternoon.

“And that’s sort of the levels that we would want to be working to, so it’s almost doubled the demand, and the telephones are ringing off the hook.”

Dr Gulhane said patients need to be flowing through NHS services again to help with the current demand.

“We need operations to start again, we need patients being seen in clinics,” he said.

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“We’re struggling to treat them (patients) and all the new patients that are coming to us, so we need to get that flow going.”

Dr Gulhane said one of the main problems behind the backlog of patients was the lack of anaesthetists in hospitals.

He said the Scottish Government needs to make more of an effort to come up with a “strategic recruitment plan” to hire more anaesthetists to assist with appointments in clinics and hospitals.

On Friday senior surgeon Professor Michael Griffin, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said the majority of the issues in Scotland’s hospitals and the knock-on effect to the ambulance service are not due to Covid.

Prof Griffin warned Scotland has “a real workforce problem in the NHS and in social care” that needs to be addressed and it is causing a “vicious circle” impacting all parts of the health service.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that increasing numbers of Covid cases and infected patients in hospitals are adding to the “very, very complex problem” facing the health service – including under-pressure paramedics.

It comes after the Scottish Government officially requested help from the army to support the ambulance service amid deteriorating response times.

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The comments appear to contradict Nicola Sturgeon’s insistence that the crisis in the ambulance service is “largely caused by the Covid pressure” and it is “the latest in a number of significant challenges posed to us as a result of this pandemic”.


Celtic slip up on the road again as Shinnie secures Livingston win

Livingston moved off the foot of the table after stunning Celtic.

Ross MacDonald via SNS Group
Andrew Shinnie produces a clinical finish to sink Celtic.

Andrew Shinnie’s first-half strike consigned Celtic to a sixth defeat in seven away games under Ange Postecoglou as their poor record at Livingston continued.

Shinnie got across Stephen Welsh and fired the only goal into the top corner in the 25th minute to earn Livi their first cinch Premiership win of the season and take them off the bottom of the table.

The touch and finish was the sort of quality Celtic lacked in the final third as they failed to make their possession and territory count and went five games without victory at the Tony Macaroni Arena.

Celtic got a number of crosses into the box but home centre-backs Ayo Obileye and Jack Fitzwater marshalled striker Albian Ajeti as the visitors ended the day in sixth place.

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Postecoglou handed Boli Bolingoli a recall as the left-back played for the first time since he breached quarantine rules at Kilmarnock on August 9 last year, days after a secret trip to Spain.

Celtic had Liel Abada back on the right wing after he missed the Europa League defeat by Real Betis but were still missing a number of regulars including skipper Callum McGregor.

James McCarthy was handed his first Celtic start while Anthony Ralston was rested as Josip Juranovic moved over to his natural right-back position. Welsh replaced the absent Carl Starfelt in central defence.

Livingston started with five in midfield including three natural left-backs and on-loan Rangers player Ben Williamson, with Shinnie handed the lone striker role.

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Home skipper Nicky Devlin received a yellow card within the first minute and team-mates Jason Holt and Adam Lewis joined him in the book during the first quarter as Celtic dominated.

For all Celtic’s possession, Max Stryjek’s biggest worry during this spell was when he fumbled an overhit cross from Bolingoli.

Joe Hart made his first save from Jackson Longridge’s long-range strike but he was beaten a minute later when Shinnie met the left-back’s low cross and finished from 14 yards.

Celtic still struggled to test Stryjek. David Turnbull shot wide after a loose ball flashed towards him and Cameron Carter-Vickers twice headed off target.

The hosts came close to doubling their lead just before the break when Fitzwater volleyed a Lewis free-kick but Hart threw out a hand to divert it over.

Stryjek was busier early in the second half, stopping Welsh’s header on the line and getting down to hold Turnbull’s long-range effort.

But the game soon went back to the first-half pattern with Celtic playing in the Livingston half but unable to carve out chances.

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Ajeti finally got a couple of opportunities as the game entered the final 20 minutes, heading wide from six yards following a corner and forcing an excellent stop from Stryjek after getting the ball to feet on the edge of the box and turning his man.

Postecoglou made three changes in between those opportunities but his only attacking option was Mikey Johnston, who came on for his first appearance of the season following injury, in place of Tom Rogic.

Stryjek parried from Turnbull but Livi came closer when Hart touched substitute Alan Forrest’s angled drive past the post.

The Hoops continued to push but their final threat came when Carter-Vickers shot wide from 25 yards. 


Woman seriously hurt in crash dies three weeks later

Valerie MacKinnon, 73, has died following the crash on the A87 between Balmacara and Kyle of Lochalsh.

Police Scotland / © Google Maps 2020
Valerie MacKinnon passed away in hospital.

A woman who was left with serious injuries following a crash in the Highlands has died three weeks later.

The collision happened around 1pm on Sunday, August 22, when a Honda Jazz car and a Skoda Rapid car crashed on the A87 between Balmacara and Kyle of Lochalsh.

Valerie MacKinnon, 73, from Sleat in the Isle of Skye, who was a passenger in the Skoda Rapid, was seriously injured in the crash.

She was taken to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow where she died on Wednesday. Officers say her family has been informed.

Two others injured in the crash, the 58-year-old male driver of the Honda and his 55-year-old female passenger, were both released from hospital after treatment.

Sergeant Ewan Calder, Highland and Islands Road Policing, Unit said: “Our thoughts are with the family of Mrs MacKinnon at this time.

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“Officers are continuing to carry out enquiries in relation to this collision and would appeal to anyone who has not yet spoken to police to get in touch.

“Information can be passed to officers via 101. Please quote reference number 1969 of Sunday, August 22, 2021, when calling.”


Hundreds gather to celebrate final day of Hindu festival

Colourful celebrations at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Park as Indians living in the city showcase their culture.

STV News

Hundreds of people have gathered in a Glasgow park to celebrate the final day of a Hindu festival.

The event has been run by Glasgow Indians for the last decade.

Organisers say it’s a chance to celebrate and sustain their culture, and share with family who still live back in India.

Abhijeet Chavan of Glasgow Indians told STV News the celebration helps bring communities together.

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He said: “People can come here, they can celebrate and back home, their parents and their relatives can see that, you know, the culture is going on.

“Glasgow is a city that says ‘Glasgow loves culture’ and ‘People make Glasgow’ so that is the reason, this helps us.

“We really love Glasgow and Glasgow allows us to celebrate our culture right and it is open to everyone.”

Body found near Loch Lomond as police probe ‘unexplained’ death

Discovery of man's body was made in Balloch, West Dunbartonshire, at around 11am on Sunday morning.

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Police investigating after man's body found near Loch Lomond.

The body of a man has been found near one of Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations.

The discovery was made near Loch Lomond at about 11am on Sunday in Balloch Road, Balloch, West Dunbartonshire.

Officers have launched a probe into the death, which is currently being treated as unexplained.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “The death is currently being treated as unexplained and inquiries into the circumstances are ongoing.

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“Emergency services remain in the area.”

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Only Fools And Horses star John Challis dies aged 79

The actor cancelled a 30-date speaking tour earlier this month after only one appearance due to ill health.

Stuart C. Wilson via Getty Images
Only Fools And Horses star John Challis has died.

Only Fools And Horses star John Challis has died from cancer at the age of 79, his family has said.

He was best-known for his portrayal of unscrupulous second-hand car dealer Boycie in the beloved sitcom, alongside Sir David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst.

He cancelled a 30-date speaking tour earlier this month after only one appearance due to ill health.

A statement from his family to the PA news agency said: “It is with heavy hearts that we bring you such sad news.

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“Our dear friend and yours, John Challis, has died peacefully in his sleep, after a long battle with cancer.

“He will always be loved for being ‘Boycie’ and leaves a great legacy of work that will continue to bring pleasure and smiles for many years to come.

“Please respect the privacy of John’s family and friends at this difficult time, and be assured that in the future there will be an occasion to celebrate John’s life – when everyone will be welcome to come along.”

Challis played Terrance Aubrey Boyce in Only Fools And Horses from 1981 to 2003, as well as in Boycie-focused spin-off show The Green Green Grass.

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He recently became an honorary citizen of Serbia, where the BBC sitcom remains hugely popular.

Challis made the documentary Boycie In Belgrade, exploring why the show was so beloved in the Balkan country.

Boycie, a cigar-smoking businessman with a mocking laugh, was married to the feisty Marlene – played by Sue Holderness – and regularly butted heads with Sir David’s Del Boy.

Challis was also known for playing Monty Staines in ITV sitcom Benidorm.

His family have requested that instead of flowers, donations are made to his favoured animal charities – Cuan Wildlife Rescue, Tusk and The British Hedgehog Preservation Society.


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