Test and Protect System

– in the Scottish Parliament on 2nd September 2020.

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Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

7. To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that the test and protect system is functioning effectively. (S5F-04344)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Test and protect is working well and doing what we need it to do: identifying positive cases early, tracing contacts so that they get the right public health advice and providing us with the detailed data to guide our response more broadly. Fluctuations in demand for testing have always been likely, and indeed, probable. Following the increase in demand for testing that we saw after schools went back, we brought additional contingency capacity online, including additional mobile testing units, and work is on-going to further increase laboratory capacity in Scotland. We will continue to make sure that the capacity to test people and the capacity to process those tests increases and has contingencies built in.

In addition, as I said yesterday, we will soon launch the proximity tracing app, protect Scotland, which will complement the proven and well-established person-to-person contact tracing that test and protect is based on.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Care workers in my constituency and across Scotland are reporting delays in receiving the results from Covid-19 tests. In some cases, the delays are for five or six days, which means that staff do not know whether it is safe for them to be at their work. The First Minister knows that pressure on testing will build over winter, so there is a need to increase capacity, particularly when there is the risk of increased transmission and local restrictions in areas such as mine, in West Dunbartonshire.

Can the First Minister advise when capacity will be increased and when the 22 local testing centres will be rolled out? I welcome the siting of the mobile army testing unit in West Dunbartonshire, because of the new restrictions in the area, but can the First Minister commit to providing permanent local testing facilities so that my constituents do not have to travel huge distances to places such as Dunoon or Edinburgh to get tested?

The First Minister:

The mobile capacity is important, because of its mobile nature. Even in Jackie Baillie’s constituency, it allows us to take capacity to particular areas that are much closer to people. It is important not only that we have fixed capacity in strategic locations around the country, but that we keep that mobile capacity, so that we can be more flexible in terms of the response. Of course, the army mobile testing units—I express my gratitude to the army, as I did yesterday—are now being run by the Scottish Ambulance Service.

We have a short turnaround time for testing. Over the past two weeks, there have been pressures on that because of the increase in demand not only in Scotland, but across the United Kingdom. We work closely with the UK Government, which can be seen in the provision of tests by the care home portal and the throughput via the lighthouse laboratory, which is administered by the UK Government. We work constructively to ensure that Scotland’s capacity within that system is properly safeguarded. In addition, we are building national health service laboratory capacity and looking at ways in which we can use NHS resources to do tests in order to ensure that the capacity in the UK-wide system is going where it is most needed.

Testing demand and the delivery of tests will always fluctuate to some extent, given the nature of what we are dealing with. However, with regard to the so-called pillar 2 testing, the figures for 26 August—which, although they are a few days old, I will use because they allow us to give the most up-to-date comparison with other parts of the UK—show that, proportionally, more than double the amount of testing was done in Scotland than was done in England, although that was partly because of our schools going back. We need to ensure that there is an in-built flexibility and contingency to this, and that is what we are committed to doing.