29 Sep Stepping Up as a Clinical Contact Caseworker
Senior Physiotherapist at Halo, Jill Drew talks about how she worked as a Clinical Contact Caseworker during lockdown, liaising over the phone with Covid-19 patients, understanding their situation and assisting in the tracing and tracking of anyone they had been in contact with.
When lockdown started on the 23rd March like many people I felt as if the rug had been pulled out from underneath my feet. I was used to busy days with structure! Alongside many of my colleagues we took our physiotherapy services online so that we could continue to help and support our patients as best we could.
During this ‘quiet time’ at the end of March/April, as well as tidying my cupboards, bookshelves, garden and rediscovering my love of baking, I signed up to NHS professionals (which is the NHS in house locum agency) to see if I could help.
As I have specialised in outpatients and had not worked on a ward as a physiotherapist for 28 years, I was not sure how my skills could be used.
I was asked to apply to be a Tier 2 Clinical Contact Caseworker as part of the ‘Test and Trace’ programme early in May.
So, after completing the application, DBS check, interview and training I started working the day after the scheme went live. The training has constantly evolved and included data protection, safeguarding of vulnerable adults and children, as well as learning about how the service would operate, the scripts we use when talking to cases and the answers to 100’s of frequently asked questions which cases might ask us. As specific geographical areas have locked down again our scripts are updated as the advice given can vary depending upon the demographics of the positive cases.
As soon as a person tests positive their details are uploaded to the Test and Trace database and initially they are invited to complete their contact details online. If they are unable to do this or leave it incomplete they are redirected to tier 2 and ‘appear’ as a case on our system. The service operates from 8.00am to 8.00 pm seven days a week. We work from home either doing 4 ,6 or 8 hour shifts.
My job involved contacting these confirmed cases (i.e. those who have had a positive test) offering them advice and support and finding out who they have been in contact with during their infectious period.
As a physio I am used to talking to patients – what was hard was having to follow a script. I was able to offer advice on how to manage their symptoms, access food deliveries, and obtain the new self-isolation note which can be given to employers. When I first started phoning cases in June, collecting contacts was relatively easy as lockdown was still in place and people were not going out. This has become much harder as we ask for contacts three days before symptoms started (or a positive test) and up to 10 days after so as you can imagine many of our cases have numerous contacts and places they have visited during this time. We received training on how to jog memories which has been very useful.
The information on the contacts of the positive cases is uploaded and these individuals are then phoned by the Tier 3 contact workers who again offer support and request they self-isolate.
Tier 1 are Public Health England employees and deal with complex cases such as those working in a hospital, care home or prison. They are responsible for coordinated the local lockdown response and will visit cases at home if they do not respond to phone calls.
Despite the negative media reports we are reaching around 80% of cases and contacts. Since its inception the service has contacted over 415,000 people.
What has been most frustrating is that some of these positive cases do not answer their phone (we call them every 2 hours over a 96 hour period!) and a minority refuse to pass on their contact details. The number that appears if you are called by our service is 0300 013 5000 – perhaps input this into your phone so you will know if you get a call it is genuine. We do not ask for any financial information but we do require the details (phone number / email) for anyone or any place that you have been in contact with if you test positive.
Now I’ve returned to seeing patients in clinic at Halo, I have not signed up to undertake further shifts for Test and Trace. I have learned a lot. Not only about Covid 19 but also about Public Health and the difficulty in managing a virus we know so little about.