Care Home Workers (Weekly Covid-19 Testing)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 27th August 2020.

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Photo of Alison Harris Alison Harris Conservative

1. To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making in meeting its commitment to carry out weekly Covid-19 tests on all care home workers. (S5O-04525)

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

As Alison Harris knows, I advised members in the chamber on 19 May that all care home staff would be offered Covid-19 testing, regardless of symptoms, and that that would be undertaken every seven days. I can confirm that all care home staff in Scotland now have access to weekly testing. Of course, not all staff are available every week; staff may well be on holiday, off sick, or on maternity leave or other leave. Therefore, our agreed aim is to test 70 per cent of available staff.

The latest statistics show that 36,986 staff were tested in the week commencing 14 August. That was over 75 per cent of staff available. All care homes have had access to the United Kingdom social care portal since 8 June, and we have secured 67,900 tests per week. Over 90 per cent of our care homes have ordered through the portal.

Photo of Alison Harris Alison Harris Conservative

D espite the 70 per cent aim, which—granted—has been met, last week 17,000 of 53,000 staff failed to be tested. In the five weeks prior to that, the numbers ranged from 16,872 to 19,000. The figure remains high at a constant level of slightly over a third of staff. Surely all those staff cannot fall into the holiday, sick pay or maternity leave categories. What other explanation can the cabinet secretary offer for those failed and missed tests?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

So that we are factually accurate, I note that the percentage of available staff who have been tested in the past six weeks went from 69 per cent to 72 per cent to 75 per cent to 76 per cent two weeks in a row. In the week commencing 14 August, the percentage was 77.7 per cent.

In that time—this is one of the explanations—the number of staff who declined to be tested reduced from just over 2,500 in a week to 1,014 in the most recent week for which we have figures. However, not all our care homes participate in the weekly testing in any one week, and we do not have all their results back in any one week. In every week, there will be some missing results, but I am pleased to say that there is also a declining number of staff who are declining testing and a declining number of care homes not participating in testing.

Regular participation in weekly testing has now been made one of the criteria that care homes must meet in order to take part in the extension of visiting through the designated indoor visitor for each resident, for example, and I am sure that we will see an increase in the number of care homes and the number of staff participating in the weekly testing regime.

We have addressed some of the issues with staff, as the member knows, particularly through the social care fund. With the co-operation and at the initiation of Ms Lennon, that fund addresses the poor terms and conditions of some staff who were only receiving statutory sick pay if they tested positive and were therefore fearful of being tested at all, lest that positive test be returned, because the reduction in their income would be so significant and so harmful to them and their families.

We have a group working with unions, my officials and Scottish Care; it looks every week at the particular issues that might be preventing staff from participating in testing or a care home from participating in the programme and we are looking to resolve those issues in real time.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

Is the cabinet secretary able to provide a brief update on the work of the short-life consultation group that was established with union and care home management reps to better understand the concerns about staff having weekly testing?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

The short-life working group has met on six separate occasions and, as I said earlier, it has looked at a number of key operational issues. It is very task focused and looks at how we can resolve those issues. Most of the issues have now been addressed. Actions have included the introduction of four-weekly ordering of test kits to make the ordering burden on care homes less onerous, the bulk uploading of tests once completed and amendments to the user guidance for the social care portal. We have also produced a video encouraging staff to participate in staff testing. The group will continue to explore any issues that are raised, either from the unions concerned, through their membership, or from care home managers.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

There is a further brief supplementary from Jackie Baillie.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

The cabinet secretary will be aware of my repeated requests for local testing facilities for care home staff and for local residents in my area. Last week, I had parents and their children being told to travel to Dunoon, Stirling and Edinburgh. This week, it was even further afield, to Belfast and to Carlisle. Will the cabinet secretary tell NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to provide local facilities in Dumbarton, the Vale of Leven or indeed Helensburgh for care home staff and for sick children, so that they do not have to travel hundreds of miles?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

Ms Baillie raises an important point. As I am sure she knows, our testing regime is currently facing a number of challenges. We undertake that testing regime through two main routes. The first of those is the UK portal, where people can book a test. The tests are processed through the Lighthouse lab in Glasgow. That Lighthouse lab is part of a network of three UK Lighthouse labs and there has been an upsurge in demand over the whole of the UK.

That demand means that some of the testing facilities where people can go to be tested have been capped at a UK level; the Lighthouse lab in Glasgow has been processing more tests from south of the border than from Scotland. All of that has created some of the difficulties that Ms Baillie’s constituents and others have faced. We are working hard with the UK Government to resolve those issues and we are also working hard to increase our national health service capacity for testing, which is the other route that we use, so that we can divert some of those dedicated testing routes to the NHS route if that is what we need to do. That includes testing of care home workers, teachers, NHS staff and others. All that work is under way.

An additional point that might help Ms Baillie in this instance is that walk-in centres have been introduced, the first of which will open in St Andrews next week. Another 10 will be rolled out across Scotland that will focus initially on our university student population, which as you know will grow considerably over the coming weeks. Following those, a further group of walk-in centres will be introduced and I have already made it clear to my officials that I want to see those centres pick up on areas such as Ms Baillie’s Inverclyde area and other parts of the country where there is a high population but limited access to local testing facilities.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I remind all members of the need for succinct questions and answers.