The Department of Health (DoH) could have to find up to 17,500 call centre staff by Friday (24 July) to man the swine flu hotline.
Yesterday, the government confirmed the new National Pandemic Flu Service would go live by the end of the week and would be staffed by 1,500 call centre workers at any one time.
But the DoH is still unable to confirm the exact number of staff that will be brought in to man the hotline.
NHS Direct currently has 3,500 staff, with 300 workers answering calls at any one time. If the same ratios are applied to the new flu hotline, 17,500 call centre workers would be needed.
The DoH could not confirm where these staff would come from, but they are expected to be seconded from other public sector call centres.
A spokeswoman told Personnel Today: “Initially, there will be 1,500 call centre seats; this is the number of people who will be taking calls.” She also confirmed the staff answering the phones will not be medically trained.
“They are not going to be medically trained. This is because they won’t be like NHS Direct, who have to deal with a lot of different conditions. They will be using a diagnostic tool to tell if people have swine flu. They can contact medical professionals if they need to, as there will be someone on call,” she said.
“We don’t anticipate it will be a problem. They will get trained fully in the symptoms of swine flu.”
Legal experts have warned that employers who fail to adequately protect their staff from swine flu could face legal claims reaching tens of thousands of pounds.