Covid-19 Megalab

– in the Scottish Parliament on 17th November 2020.

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Photo of Donald Cameron Donald Cameron Conservative

1. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the announcement that Scotland will host one of the two proposed Covid-19 megalabs. (S5T-02529)

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government welcomes the announcement. The creation of the megalabs will be an important step in our fight against the virus, and the decision to locate one of them in Scotland is a sign of the strength of Scotland’s life sciences sector, and of our strong skills and research base.

The lab will provide up to 300,000 tests per day when it is at full capacity, using end-point PCR—polymerase chain reaction—technology, and will have an important role beyond the pandemic in diagnostics and support for work in precision medicine. The exact location of the megalab in Scotland is still to be confirmed, and we are working closely with our counterparts in the United Kingdom Government on that.

Photo of Donald Cameron Donald Cameron Conservative

I acknowledge the cabinet secretary’s welcome for the announcement. It will mean the creation of an extra 1,800 Scottish jobs, which highlights the UK Government’s overall commitment to supporting Scottish jobs during the pandemic. Can the cabinet secretary confirm whether she has met the UK Government to discuss the proposal? Can she reconfirm her Government’s full support in resources to ensure that it can be delivered in a timely manner?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

My officials have been actively involved, virtually day-to-day, with their colleagues in the UK Government as the proposition of a megalab has developed, and they put forward the case for one being located in Scotland. They have regular contact on that.

As I think Mr Cameron knows, I have a four-nations meeting with my counterparts—the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care; the Minister for Health and Social Services for Wales, Vaughan Gething; and the Minister of Health for Northern Ireland, Robin Swann—at least fortnightly. Currently those meetings are running weekly, and the last one was on Friday. We discuss a number of issues in and around Covid, including testing and the Covid vaccine programme. We have been doing that for the past nine to 10 months.

We are in regular contact with the UK Government at ministerial level and official level, not only on the megalab in Scotland, but to ensure that the development aligns with our own three regional hubs—which are on track to be fully operational by the end of this calendar year—and to ensure that we are getting the best possible shared value, in terms of consumables and other issues.

The other organisation that I should mention, which has been particularly engaged in the megalab proposition, is Scottish Enterprise. Its knowledge of locations and business needs in and around Scotland has been particularly helpful.

Photo of Donald Cameron Donald Cameron Conservative

The cabinet secretary mentioned the pledge to introduce three new regional laboratory hubs. The new Scottish megalab will see daily testing capacity increase by 300,000. In the Scottish Government’s clinical and scientific review, the pledge in relation to the new regional hubs was that they would open in November and December. Can the cabinet secretary give an update on whether the deadlines for those months will be met?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

The three regional hubs are in Glasgow, Grampian and, I believe, in Lothian. The Glasgow hub will open at full capacity of 12,000 tests per day from 12 December. It will have done its trial runs at the back end of this month and into December to ensure that it is ready to open fully on that basis.

The other two hubs will also open in mid-December, so that by the end of this calendar year, they will be contributing an additional 22,000 tests per day, over what our national health service labs and our partnerships with commercial providers and academia provide.