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Covid-19 (Testing Facilities)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 28th May 2020.

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Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

2. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide testing facilities in the areas with the highest incidence of Covid-19. (S5O-04349)

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

That is a really important question, if I may say so. As Ms Baillie knows, testing in Scotland is provided through two routes, which will continue. The first route is national health service controlled and is our NHS board laboratories, the academic partners that we have engaged with, and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.

The second route is the United Kingdom Government’s four-nation programme, which is made up of the drive-through centres and the mobile units. The tests that are taken in those places go to the Lighthouse lab.

We are looking very carefully at how we can introduce closer-to-home testing for individuals as part of test and protect. I hope to be able to make those decisions clear in the coming days. That includes looking at the use of, for example, our Covid assessment hubs—which we set up to provide a safe primary care route, leaving general practitioner practices Covid free as best we could—and at testing at home. That is different from the UK Government’s home-testing kit, which still has a very slow turnaround. Test and protect rests a lot on the speed at which we can turn around the test results. Testing at home is about looking at how we can use healthcare professionals to test people in their own houses.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for that very helpful response. She will, of course, be aware that West Dunbartonshire has the second highest incidence by head of population of deaths from Covid-19. However, health and social care staff and local residents have to travel substantial distances outwith the area in order to get tested. Indeed, one constituent was referred from Dumbarton to Dunoon, which is simply incredible. Will the cabinet secretary ensure that there are local testing facilities, particularly in West Dunbartonshire?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

I suspect that the particular instance that Ms Baillie mentioned was of someone who booked a test through the UK Government portal, which refers people to the drive-throughs or to the mobile testing units. Those mobile testing units are now in the control of the Scottish Government, so we can move them in a way that makes more sense. As Ms Baillie will know, they are staffed by the Army, so we need to make sure that we also have clinical teams there in case the individual cannot take the swab sample themselves—it is not always straightforward.

We will go further than that. I am looking at a map of Scotland on which we overlay where all the drive-throughs are and where we can move the mobile units, as well as where our Covid assessment hubs are. We will then look at making sure that we introduce in addition to that—even if it is in a staged way—additional places where people can be tested.

That will focus on those areas where either, as Ms Baillie said, there has been a higher incidence of Covid than in other areas, or where there are particular geographical challenges to individuals driving—I am thinking of remote and rural areas—and we do not want them to use public transport. We are looking at all of that, and I hope to be able to set it out for members in the coming weeks.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I ask for quick supplementaries and answers from Beatrice Wishart and Stuart McMillan.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

As we move to test and protect, the demand for tests will inevitably rise significantly, but the islands face unique hurdles when it comes to accessing testing and local capacity has to be available.

Can the cabinet secretary provide an update on how local capacity will be increased in island communities to meet that demand?

Also, the First Minister said last week that it will be important to publish testing data. Can the cabinet secretary provide an update on that?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

On the last part of the member’s question, we are currently working through what test and protect data we will publish and with what frequency, and on how that process will operate. The information will include the number of index cases, the speed of test results, the number of contacts that follow and so on.

On the islands question, I know that agreements have been reached and arrangements made in order to use satellite sites in the islands and to ensure that the chemicals and testing kits necessary to undertake testing are available in the islands. If it would be helpful, I will send the details to the member—to all MSPs in island communities. In addition, every board area, including the islands, has its own pool of contact tracers.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

A new mobile Army unit opened in Greenock last Friday and I have been informed that only eight people used it yesterday. Does the cabinet secretary agree that those units should sensibly move around constituencies to help both older households and households without a vehicle?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

I expect that the reason for there being so few people at the unit is that, up until this morning, testing was demand-led through the United Kingdom Government portal, which sent people to the mobile units. If people did not fit the definition at that point, they were not able to access testing.

From this morning, test and protect specifically changes the message. We tell people who have any of the symptoms of the coronavirus to not wait to see if they feel a bit better the next day but to please isolate at home and either use the NHS 24 free phone number or book a test straight away on the NHS Inform website.

That means that there will be greater use of the testing capacity, and that the mobile units will be freed up for us to make more effective use of them, perhaps in the way that Mr McMillan described, or by ensuring that we maximise our testing speed in care homes or by covering areas of particular deprivation or incidence of Covid-19. We will work through that logistical exercise as the data emerges around where people are booking tests. We will know that in real time and will be able to respond accordingly.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We have to speed up a wee bit. Can we have single questions, rather than multiple questions in one slot?