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School safety is the latest outsourcing scandal. I feel a creeping despair

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Does anyone in power care? Shocking revelations about the government’s handling of the pandemic are either ignored or dismissed. The vast human cost of its failure to protect us seems to leave its ministers unfazed. However badly the model of privatised, outsourced provision falls over, the programme persists.

After last week’s article revealing that unqualified teenage call handlers working, through Serco, on the government’s test and trace system had been suddenly “upskilled” – obliged to take on the role of experienced health workers and to make crucial clinical decisions – I’ve been inundated with messages from two groups of people. One consists of call–centre workers telling the same grim story: breaking down in tears as they have to handle situations for which they have no preparation and no skills. The other consists of retired or furloughed clinicians who say they have been repeatedly rebuffed when they have offered their services to the government. It seems that experienced and qualified health workers are being turned away in favour of 18-year-olds on the minimum wage.

But I’ve also been told a separate story, about a parallel disaster unfolding along similar lines. While the Department of Health has flushed £12bn down the toilet, in the form of its failed test and trace system, the Department for Education (DfE) seems to be making a horrible mess of its own pandemic response. Here too roles once occupied by experienced clinicians have been handed to call-centre workers employed by Serco. To judge by what I’ve learned so far, the result is likely to be another public health catastrophe.

Over the past week, I’ve been talking to staff at schools and colleges across England. The story they tell me is consistent and chilling. For the first two weeks of term, schools in which Covid-19 was detected received, they say, excellent help and advice from local teams reporting to Public Health England (PHE). Skilled clinicians worked closely with school staff........

© The Guardian

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