Covid-19 (Contact Tracers)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 26th May 2020.

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Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will have recruited all 2,000 contact tracers by the end of May. (S5T-02214)

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

We will. As of today, we have 1,615 contact tracers identified and ready to be deployed. As the member will recall, the contact tracers are drawn from the three parts of our recruitment exercise—that is, from national health service boards, our returner pool and the adverts that we placed, the closing date for which was last Friday. The number that I have given is for those who have been identified and are ready to be deployed from NHS boards, the Scottish Ambulance Service, NHS National Services Scotland and Public Health Scotland.

By 1 June, we will have more than 385 from the NHS returner pool and we are processing those from the recruitment adverts at the rate of 150 a day. As we have said, we do not anticipate that, on 1 June, we will need all those contact tracers: the degree to which they will be needed will be determined by the number of positive tests that come through from individuals.

As we move from where we are now—in lockdown—to phase 1 as was set out in the route map that the Government published last week, if the incidence of the virus in the community is still as suppressed as it is at this point, we would not expect, by any means, to need all those 2,000 contact tracers at the start of phase 1. However, our anticipation is that, as we move through the phases, depending on how the virus performs and what its incidence is, we might need up to 2,000 contact tracers—or we might need more. Over the summer period we will therefore continue our iterative recruitment exercise, as well as the approach that we have achieved to date.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

Will the cabinet secretary clarify how many contact tracers have actually been recruited? At her lunch time briefing today, the First Minister suggested that the number was 700. However, have those people just been moved from other parts of the Government’s response to Covid-19?

What lessons have been learned from the failures in contact tracing that we have seen in relation to the Nike conference at the beginning of the outbreak, and what additional measures have been taken into account in the new system?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

Let me repeat that, as of today, 1,615 staff have been identified and are ready to be deployed as contact tracers. As the member will recall, from the outset of the outbreak, I have said, on social media and elsewhere, that our recruitment exercise for contact tracers consists of three pillars, the first of which involves NHS staff. It should be remembered that we are starting from a position of having a pool of contact tracers through local health protection teams, which, before the pandemic, would expand or contract depending on what we needed them to do. Added to that is the second pillar, which is our NHS returner pool, and the third, which involves our adverts that closed on Friday of last week. That is the threefold approach that we have been using to grow our number of contact tracers. We estimated that we would need 2,000 tracers, and we will have those in place by 1 June.

What happened around the event that the member has referenced was exactly in accordance with the way in which contact tracing works. The First Minister has already explained the process that was gone through. It should be remembered that the whole process of contact tracing is a clinically led NHS exercise, which involves protocols. At this point, one area that is being discussed is the number of cases that might constitute a cluster. That has not yet been agreed, but the process of considering it is being led by the deputy chief medical officer, the chief medical officer and others. Once that number has been determined and agreed, the other part of the advice that they will issue on how matters should proceed will be on what would then trigger a public health notice to advise a community that a cluster had appeared in a particular setting. Once those two decisions have been made by those individuals, we will ensure that members know what they are.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

In Scotland, more than 100,000 tests have been left unused during the outbreak, and the number of tests being carried out has consistently fallen short of the daily target. Does the cabinet secretary accept that the current testing situation has not been acceptable, and that care home staff and residents who should have been tested have not been able to utilise the available capacity?

Further, the cabinet secretary previously told me that it was taking between 48 and 72 hours for people to receive their test results. What will the turnaround time be under the new testing system? If it will not be below 24 hours, does she think that the new system will actually work?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

I would dispute the figures that Mr Briggs mentioned. I think that they appeared previously in The Herald newspaper, at which time the Government disputed them. If, after this meeting, the member would like to provide me with details of how he arrived at those numbers, I would be happy to give him a detailed answer.

On the second part of Mr Brigg’s question, about the turnaround time, if I recall correctly I said that it was up to 72 hours and we were pressing hardest to have that turnaround time reduced in the lighthouse laboratory, which is part of the four-nation, United Kingdom Government-led exercise. There is a target time of 24 hours for going from sample to result. Our NHS labs are achieving that. The Lighthouse lab, I am pleased to say, is close to consistently achieving that target time, too. Our clinical advisers to the health service will determine how that will be monitored to ensure that the 24-hour target time is consistently met across all the lab sites that are operating.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Aileen Campbell is joining us remotely to answer question 3.