It’s ridiculous. In a five hour shift I answered the phone four times. Altogether there are about 400 of us in this newly organised centre – we’re all being paid £6 an hour, and we’re practically doing nothing. We sit around reading magazines, and every hour or so the phone rings and we get out the script. The lengthy disclaimer comes first, then it’s: “Do you need an ambulance?”, followed gradually by the tamer questions about coughs and headaches.

“But I kid you not, Will. I had a guy who rang up and said he’d been feeling ill, so had contacted the helpline in the morning and been prescribed Tamiflu. His Mum went to collect it. Meanwhile, he had a nap and afterwards felt much better, so he was ringing up to say he didn’t need the drug, and what should he do with it? Seriously! He had a peaky afternoon, so he ordered in the anti-virals.

“What terrifies me is that none of us in the centre has any medical training whatsoever. There’s a lot of bullshit in our handbook about us being specially selected, but actually I just filled in a form and was given the job the next day without an interview. Because of this, I’m obviously worried we’re giving out Tamiflu to people who don’t really need it. If there was a real Swine Flu pandemic, a lot of the people we speak to would be ****** – having already taken their dosage for a cold, they won’t be allowed it again. Another concern is that basically people convince themselves that Tamiflu is preventative…

“It strikes me that the government has set up this helpline as an insurance policy. But it’s wasting huge amounts of money. I’ve heard there are 1,500 of us all over the UK working almost non-stop. We’re giving out Tamiflu to people who are panicking because of what they’ve seen on the news, all basically so the NHS can say it’s doing its very best. I don’t blame pregnant women, the elderly, parents of young children – of course, they are genuinely terrified of a pandemic. But the other day a guy rang up complaining about a mild headache. I felt like saying, “hang up the phone, take a paracetemol, and get the hell back to work.”

Source: The Telegraph, 31 July 2009.

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