HEALTH bosses have been accused of failing to help protect their call centre staff after NHS 24 workers were told to disable the contact tracing Protect Scotland app.

Staff have been told to disable the software – with workers claiming they are “being told that we don’t need to have our apps on” amid concerns raised that the guidance “does not reflect well on the message they are sending out to the public”.

Earlier this week, Aberdeen City Council told its teachers to disable the app – insisting that mitigation measures such as face coverings and social distancing were enough to protect staff from contracting the virus.

READ MORE: Teachers in Aberdeen told to 'disable' Protect Scotland app

But Nicola Sturgeon said disabling the app was reserved for clinical settings or when tough social distancing is in place – with the First Minister stating that people should be able “to keep the phone with them as far as possible”.

NHS 24 has stressed that staff should not have their phones on them for patient confidentiality reasons but a worker said that “if staff have the phone on their person, but not on their desk, then the confidentiality argument goes right out the window”.

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The organisation also said that the app needs to be disabled in lockers so the software does not pick up any inaccurate contacts – but not all workers have access to storage for their items.

A worker told The Herald: “It has always been their policy not to have personal mobiles out on the floor, but to have them in your person and on mute would not be unreasonable, to allow for the test and protect app to do its job.

“As these are unprecedented times, we should be following Scottish Government advice to help to protect our staff and continue to serve our patients.”

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The insider added: “NHS 24 have already been told by the Cabinet Secretary that we are not a clinical area, as it was flouting rules around physical distancing in its call centres. This was raised to the Cabinet Secretary by the GMB Union.

“It does not reflect well on the message they are sending out to the public – much more do as I say, not what I do.”

NHS 24 staff takes calls about Covid-19 from the Scottish public as well as NHS inform advice and unscheduled care and out of hours services.

The insider added: “NHS 24 provides and updates the people of Scotland with Covid-19 advice, but does not follow its own advice, or advice issued by the Scottish Government.”

Staff feel that worries over call centre workers having to self-isolate if the app determines they have been in contact with someone with the virus could be driving the refusal to allow employees to use the software.

The worker added: “If they were to lose one of our larger centres in the Central Belt, then that is a significant hit to the service. “I think that is NHS 24’s fear, so they are putting unreasonable demands on their staff to follow their advice and ignore what is being advised by Protect Scotland.”

Earlier this week the First Minister said “we shouldn’t be asking people to switch off the app” unless they are in clinical settings or robust PPE is being used, adding that “that’s defeating the purpose of Protect Scotland”.

She added that people should use “common sense” and that “your default advice is to tell people to keep it on and to keep the phone with them as far as possible”.

Opposition parties have called for clarity to be given to staff and for the Scottish Government to work with health boards to ensure workers feel safe.

Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said it was “worrying that more and more workers are facing pressure to disable the app”, adding that the Government should help clear the air.

HeraldScotland: Labour health spokesperson Monica LennonLabour health spokesperson Monica Lennon

She added: “Absence levels within NHS24 are already worrying and it’s important that staff feel safe and supported to do the crucial work we all depend on.

“NHS staff working in offices should feel supported to use the Protect Scotland app at work, which the First Minister has encouraged people to do.”

Shadow health secretary Donald Cameron said: “Protect Scotland continues to be a vital tool in fighting the spread of the virus but it must retain the trust of everyone who uses it, especially our frontline NHS staff.

“No NHS worker should feel uneasy going to work at this critical time and staff deserve an urgent explanation of this particular decision.”

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Scottish Greens health spokeswoman Alison Johnstone added: “It is completely unacceptable that NHS24 staff are being asked to turn off their contact tracing app while at work.

“It’s vital that the Government urgently provides similar clarity to anxious NHS 24 staff.”

NHS 24 insists all staff are in a socially distanced environment with only 50 per cent of desks currently in use and stressed that phones cannot be on workers due to patient confidentiality concerns.

A spokeswoman for NHS 24 said: “All staff at NHS 24 are encouraged to use the app, in keeping with Scottish Government advice. The current recommended guidance from Scottish Government is that Protect Scotland is paused or the phone switched off when it is not on your person.

“This is important to ensure the tracking relates to the person, not the device.

“NHS 24 staff are asked to leave their personal mobile devices in lockers when in areas where patient information is being discussed or viewed. This is to protect patient confidentiality and has been NHS 24’s policy for a number of years.

“For this reason we are asking, where possible, that personal mobiles are switched off, or the app paused, when left in lockers, in line with national guidance. If staff have personal reasons for leaving their phones on they are asked to speak to their manager.

“Staff are encouraged to use the app at all other times.”