The government is seeking a director of operations for its beleaguered test-and-trace system who can turn around “failing call centres” for a rate of up to £2,000 a day.
A job advert posted on recruitment sites stated that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was looking for a temporary “VP of operations” with experience “in running call centres of 18,000”.
It comes as the prime minister, Boris Johnson, admitted that the £12bn coronavirus contact-tracing service needed to provide faster results and he shared “people’s frustrations” over turnaround times. Figures published on Thursday showed test and trace figures had hit a new low of less than 60% of close contacts being reached, while turnaround times had risen to nearly 48 hours.
The job post added that the DHSC was looking for a candidate who “can implement improvements straight away”, had “experience (and evidence) of turning around failing call centres” and had “examples of quick wins”.
The advert, which was posted on the website of the recruitment company Quast, has since been taken down. An employee at Quast confirmed that the job advert had been placed with them, adding that they had only realised the “nature and sensitivity of the role” once they began to get inquiries about the job.
The deadline for applications was listed as Friday 23 October.
The DHSC confirmed that it was actively recruiting for the role, but added that the advert would be redrafted. It did not deny or confirm whether the day rate for a successful applicant would be up to £2,000 a day, as originally stated.
A DHSC spokesperson said: “The text for this advert was not drafted or approved by the department. As part of our ongoing commitment to improve services, we are recruiting experienced employees with a wide range of experience, including driving high performance.
“To date, with the help of NHS test and trace call handlers, the service has contacted over 1 million people who may have been at risk of unwittingly spreading the virus.”
Speaking during a Downing Street coronavirus briefing on Thursday, Johnson said the system, designed to contain outbreaks by ensuring that anyone exposed to virus self-isolates, was helping “a bit”.
“The thing depends on people self-isolating and breaking the transmission. It is helping a bit already to break the transmission. About 1 million contacts have been reached. But there is more that it can do if everybody complies once they are contracted by NHS test and trace.”
Alongside him, Sir Patrick Vallance said the “diminishing” effectiveness of test and trace was in part inevitable as coronavirus cases rose in the second wave – but also a result of the system’s operation.
Figures published by the government showed that in the week ending 14 October, 59.6% of close contacts were reached, down from the previous week’s figure of 62.6%, which was the lowest since the test-and-trace operation was launched at the end of May.