Exclusive: Vaccine Appointment Company Among Those Slated By Finance Watchdog Over Test and Trace
Outsourcing firm, Sitel, has been subcontracted by French firm Teleperformance to support the pandemic response, despite the UK's public finance watchdog heavily criticising Sitel’s involvement with the Test and Trace programme.
At least 400 Sitel staff have been tasked with arranging vaccine appointments, PoliticsHome can reveal.
It comes after the role of private firms in the national response to the pandemic was heavily criticised by the National Audit Office (NAO) in December.
In a blistering report, the NAO said outsourcing firms, including Sitel, were initially handed contracts worth £720m to run parts of the NHS Test and Trace system, but that by mid-June staff worked just 1% of the time they were paid as cases fell.
Meanwhile, the report said during busier periods the service "struggled to test and trace as many people as it has capacity to, or to reach the contacts of people testing positive quickly enough".
It is believed the firm was handed the new role by Teleperformance to help run the 119 telephone service - which offers advice and help with booking appointments for those offered the jab.
A Department of Health and Social Care source said the contract for running parts of the service had been awarded to the French firm but that any subsequent outsourcing was down to Teleperformance and that the department had no direct contract with Sitel for the work.
In an email last week, Sitel told staff due to undergo the training they would be joining the "hard working NHS staff to assist the public with bookings and enquiries regarding COVID19 vaccines".
The revelation comes after NHS Test and Trace boss Dido Harding told MPs it was "appropriate" to seek help from the private sector "in extreme emergency circumstances" such as the pandemic, with a DHSC source saying the firms would only be called-up to work on the vaccine scheme if demand was "higher than expected".
But a Sitel employee told PoliticsHome the 400-strong "vaccine team" would be "going live within the next 2 weeks" and would be "mass calling to speed up vaccine appointments".
The practice of outsourcing roles for key parts of the pandemic response has been widely condemned by opposition MPs and campaigners, who have instead called for the pandemic response to be handled directly by NHS staff and local authorities.
Shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves said the decision showed the government were "determined to follow a course" which would waste public money.
"The Government has spent £22billion on a testing system that has just not been good enough, with billions going to outsourcing companies that haven't delivered," Reeves told PoliticsHome.
"The truth is local authorities and the NHS have shown throughout this crisis they deliver better. But this Government seems determined to follow a course that is proven to waste public money."
Meanwhile, Pascale Robinson, campaigns officer at We Own It, said it was "shocking news".
"The government clearly hasn't learnt a single lesson from its disastrous handling of the pandemic thus far," she said.
"Right now, we're all hopeful that an effective vaccination programme will allow us to return to some semblance of normality. Involving the likes of Sitel will only make that less likely she claimed.
She added: "In rolling out the vaccines, the government must recognise it's errors, shake off its ideological commitment to privatisation and outsourcing, and manage the vaccination programme through GPs and primary care services, who people trust and want to run their health services."
Sitel and Teleperformance directed PoliticsHomes’s request for comment to The Department of Health and Social Care.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson, said: "We do not have a contract with Sitel to assist with vaccine booking.
"Teleperformance continue to be contracted to provide support services as part of the 119 service.
"Teleperformance is responsible for any subcontracting of further support services and additional staffing would only be used if demand becomes higher than expected."
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe