Scottish Government agrees £1.3 million contract with call centre to boost contact tracing

The Scottish Government has agreed a £1.3 million contract with private company Ascensos to boost contact tracing efforts.

The Scottish Government has agreed a £1.3 million contract with Ascensos.

The Motherwell-based call centre firm will “immediately and rapidly” deploy additional contact tracers, reported healthcare news site Healthandcare.scot.

It comes as the NHS has also hired travel firm Barrhead Travel to provide extra staff. The company said it had been “proactively exploring other business options” to preserve jobs while the travel industry continues to slump.

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Health Secretary Jeanne Freeman said last week there were around 800 active contact tracers, but that the government was aiming for 1,000 “over the coming period”.

As the NHS remobilises staff who were seconded to contact tracing duties will also be returned to their original roles.

The deal has been criticised by opposition leaders who accuse the SNP of “outsourcing” contact tracing, which Nicola Sturgeon previously said would be carried out within NHS Scotland.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The fact that the SNP Government are outsourcing this work is sign that they are struggling to deliver an effective tracing system especially when they have previously criticised the use of such outsourcing by the Conservative Government.

“Contact tracing is essential if we are to successfully hunt down and drive out the virus."

Mr Rennie added that there is a “dangerous lack of capacity” in Test and Protect, as Public Health Scotland data revealed that last week 560 people were not interviewed within 48 hours of their positive test being logged.

Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing, Nicola Sturgeon insisted that the government is not outsourcing the service.

She said: “Test and Protect in Scotland is an NHS service.

“We have not and we will not outsource any parts of our contact tracing system and no parts of the contact tracing system is run by the private sector, and I want to make that perfectly clear.

“What National Services Scotland has done is recruit a small number of staff on a short-term basis from private companies as we migrate from a system that in its early days was staffed by people within the NHS who could be called on, as we migrate from that to a permanent workforce.

“This small number of staff recruited from the private sector work within the NHS system, they work under direction of the NHS, they are trained in Test and Protect, they work as part of that integrated NHS system – they are not working to a private company that has been given the responsibility of running contact tracing.

“That’s not semantics, that’s a very, very different thing.”

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Monica Lennon said contact tracing performance has been going in the “wrong direction”.

“For weeks, Scottish Labour has been calling on the Government to recruit more contact tracers but they have not done enough to build up capacity and expand routine testing to key workers,” she said.

“Contact tracing performance has been going in the wrong direction and that’s down to the Scottish Government’s complacency and dithering.

“SNP Ministers may be turning to outsourcing, but the buck stops with them to expand Test and Protect and make it work efficiently and effectively across Scotland.”

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