By Lucy Ashton
What have a detective, a pilot and a cinema manager got in common…?
Meet some of the team keeping people in Greater Glasgow and Clyde as safe as possible in these unpredictable times.
Their CVs and backgrounds tell the tale of the industries hardest hit by the COVID pandemic – airline, travel and entertainment.
They are part of a 250 strong team of Contact Tracers, supported by 19 Team Leaders and two Service Delivery Managers. Our team also includes 40 members of existing NHS staff who have been reassigned to Test and Protect.
The service has been running since March 2020 and was established by Public Health and Human Resources. The Test and Protect service runs from 8am – 8pm, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
All positive results come to the team, who need to contact the ‘index case’ within 24 hours. The purpose of the call is to understand who the person’s close contacts are and where they have been during their infectious period. They are given advice on self-isolation, while always taking their own personal circumstances into consideration. If needed, they are also offered financial or emotional well-being support.
Our staff then go on to trace any contacts and help their Public Health colleagues in identifying any outbreaks or clusters for early intervention.
Contact Tracer Tom Rodgers (52) is a former DCI with Police Scotland.
After working for HMRC since leaving school, Tom joined the Police service. He had an extensive career across community policing, CID, Serious Crime Squad and Intelligence Departments.
He retired from the Police service, four years ago and with his wife, set up a wedding business and published the first issue of Glasgow Wedding Magazine, before lockdown.
At the end of March, Tom contracted COVID and was admitted to Crosshouse Hospital in Ayrshire.
“I was in hospital for 2-3 weeks, with some time spent in ICU. It was in the early days, so there was a real fear factor, fear of the unknown. The staff were phenomenal, both with me and my family. But you could see the fear in their eyes. I felt so guilty they had to feel that way. Sadly we lost some friends and former colleagues to the virus and that was tough.
“It took a few months for me to fully recover and my family were a great support. My son is a PT and helped me build myself back up, as I had lost about two stone in muscle. My wife was also great and made sure I took my time to get back on my feet. I didn’t rush. I was probably back to normal by mid-summer. Thanks to them all looking after me.
“Once I recovered, I knew I wanted to help. There is so much misinformation out there. So applying to join the Test and Protect Team was a quick way for me to do something.
“It was a great opportunity. I had the skill set, I can talk to people, especially those distressed or who have lost loved ones. It was one of the difficult tasks in the Police but experience helps with that. I have interview skills, people skills and I wanted to put them to good use. It’s very interesting, especially when there can be discrepancies when you talk to people and you don’t want to feel like you are catching them out. All you want to do is get the right information to the right people.
“The majority of people give their consent for their contacts to know their identity. The number of contacts can vary. Some have only been in touch with people in their home, while others may have 20-25 contacts, it just depends.
“When I’m doing this job, I realise that this service wasn’t there for my family in the early days, but now that it is in place, we can help so many people and help stop the spread of the virus. I have the opportunity to help get the right messages out there. It’s so important not to scare people. I am pleased I am playing my part. By doing what I do, I could be saving a life. That’s the job satisfaction. By staying up to date, you can furnish people with the right information.
“Some people can be a little defensive, but there are ways of encouraging them! I work in a great team; there are 18 of us. There are so many different skills sets; people from so many different backgrounds, allowing knowledge sharing opportunities. Everyone wants to do it right and they take great pride in their work.”
“We are here to help, and doing our role properly, helps to save lives.”
The Cinema Manager
Contact Tracing Team Leader Chris Quinn (28) was the Cinema Manager for Cineworld for four years.
“There are so many people like me doing contact tracing; coming from industries which have declined because of COVID. My job is to help run a team who contact trace our NHS staff who become positive. It probably makes things easier, as NHS staff have a good level of understanding of the virus and how to take personal accountability both inside and outside the work environment to help stop the spread.
“I usually get involved in the calls which become more complex, such as working out where people were during their infectious period, as well as just before symptoms developed.
“I am thoroughly enjoying the job. I’ve come into a great team and a really welcoming environment. There is a real sense of community and togetherness (remotely of course!) It certainly is different; I never thought I would be part of the NHS and am so glad I have the chance to play my part in this pandemic.”
Travel agency Manager
Contact Tracing Team Leader Gillian Lindsay (41), was a manager for the Glasgow Flight Centre until she took redundancy last year.
Gillian initially joined as a Contact Tracer and now heads up a team following promotion.
“Who knows when the travel industry will get back on its feet. It will take years and holidays are bound to be more expensive when they do start again. There are parts of the job I really do miss. I went into the travel industry because I loved helping people. You really got to know your regular customers and making plans with them was part of the trip. If they were going to Australia to see family, you would get to know their grandkids’ names and they would always come back in to tell you all about it.
“Obviously I also miss the opportunity to travel.
“Being a Contact Tracer was so interesting. With all that was happening, it felt great to be able to make a difference while the world was upside down. People would pick up the phone, so worried so it was good to be able to put them at ease. The training we got prepared us for that and we are learning all the time on the job. Sometimes you would get carers, worried that they would not be able to carry out their caring responsibilities if self-isolating and we would be able to signpost to other organisations that could help. Answering questions, lessening their worry, putting them at ease.
“When I left school I would never have thought I would be part of the NHS as I don’t have any medical background but here I am and have been able to help when the world is in a bit of a state.
“Now I am back doing what I enjoy best; managing a team. We do get some distressing calls. Everyone out there has their own story, their own challenges and we need to support them through it. And I need to support my staff when we do have those tough calls to make. Some people hang up, some don’t believe the threat is real, but the majority of people are grateful for our advice. Some worry about the financial implications and we can also give advice on that and point them in the right direction for more help.
“I am grateful the NHS recognised the qualities and skills that people like myself from the private sector could bring during the pandemic.”
Contact Tracing Team Leader Keith Sivell (36) is a former pilot with Flybe. He was made redundant last year when the firm went bust.
“I was a Flybe captain, based out of Glasgow for six years, so all my flights were short haul domestic ones to cities such as Southampton and Birmingham. As well as being a pilot, I also managed the Glasgow team.
“Almost immediately after lockdown, I joined the R&R Hub at Gartnavel; something I found really fulfilling. While we were there to support NHS staff going through an incredibly difficult time, it also helped me enormously. I had just lost my job, was worried about the industry and found myself helping the NHS in a pandemic. The therapy worked both ways, I would find myself chatting to staff and even some of the psychologists on an informal basis and I think we all benefited from it. I was giving and getting a lot back.
“I joined Test and Protect in September and right away was able to use my skills from being a pilot and a manager in my new role. Listening, working my way through operating plans, managing; these were all my transferable skills so it was an easy transition.
“Strangely enough I still feel part of a ‘crew’. Team work is the part of the job I enjoy the most; it really is close to a flying life. I do miss being up in the sky, but not the early mornings that go along with it!
“As a pilot you also need to manage stress – both your own and others. The skills you pick up talking to passengers, perhaps when they are delayed, is a skill you can use in this job. Most people we speak to are fine about being asked to self-isolate, but some are not and my past job helps me speak to them about what is worrying them, be it money, family or whatever.
“I have no idea when the airline industry will recover but it will take a long time and the business sector will be most affected. People will always want to go on holiday but the business world has adapted and changed so much during the pandemic and I doubt there will be as much business travel when things get back to normal. I am counting my blessings. I may not be flying but I am in a great team, doing a job I enjoy. So I am one of the lucky ones.
“The world doesn’t need pilots just now. It does need people to support the efforts in stopping the spread of Covid-19. I’m very happy that I can play my part with this.”
The retired NHS Manager
General Manager, Test and Protect Cath McFarlane (65) returned after 2 years of retirement after having worked for the NHS for 45 years
“We have a large team of home working Contact Tracers serving the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area and I’m extremely proud of the great work they do each and every day. Our aim is to reach out and connect with as many people possible within 24 hours of having a positive test result, in order to trace their movements and interactions during their potentially infectious period. We are not here to judge or get anyone in to trouble, just to provide information, guidance and advice on self-isolation. In doing that we have to be equipped to deal with a whole range of complications and challenges that people are facing. Whether that be emotional, financial or physical issues, our highly skilled team are here to help”