FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon accused of 'squandering' Covid tests and 'failing' care homes

Nicola Sturgeon has rejected the suggestion that care homes are being failed.Nicola Sturgeon has rejected the suggestion that care homes are being failed.
Nicola Sturgeon has rejected the suggestion that care homes are being failed.
Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of failing care homes “all over again” after it was revealed that every resident and worker could have been tested twice if routine testing had been implemented in April.

Scottish Tory leader, Jackson Carlaw, said the Scottish Government was “squandering” the coronavirus testing capacity available, and demanded to know how many of Scotland’s 50,000 care home workers had been tested since a pledge two weeks ago by the Health Secertary that they would all be screened.

At First Minister’s Questions, he said more than 1350 elderly people had been sent to care homes from hospitals without being tested for Covid-19, contributing to the “tragedy of care home deaths”. Pointing to figures showing only 5000 tests were carried out across the whole of Scotland yesterday, he said it was clear routine testing still was not in place, as “there would be a minimum of 7000 tests a day”.

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However the First Minister said that a programme of “regular and routine care home staff teting is underway” and denied the government was failing care homes.

Mr Carlaw said: “It doesn't add up. Why are care homes being failed again? Surely by now mobile testing teams or GPs should have visited every care home in Scotland?

“We spoke to care home operator Renaissance Care, it has 1150 staff who have performed heroic and selfless tasks these last three months but only 649 of them have been tested, just 56% and not on a repeating basis. What’s deeply worrying is that seven per cent had no symptoms of the disease but came back positive for Covid. More mistakes are unfolding right now and may yet lead to more deaths. It won’t be possible to blame these deaths on hindsight.”

He added: “The tragedy is Scotland has the capcacity to test and if you’ve used that effectively since the end of April you could have tested all the residents and staff in care homes twice. Instead that capacity is squandered, and care home workers and residents who have already endured the horror of this crisis are being let down all over again.”

Nicola Sturgeon rejected his suggestion that care homes were being failed and said that while care home deaths were “still too high” they were “declining quite rapidly” and that “the package of measures we’re taking is having an effect.”

She added: “I don’t blame anything on anything, I take responsibility for the government’s response to coronavirus. I’ve never, and never will, seek to blame anybody but I try to ensure the public has the understanding it needs so it knows why it needs to comply with the measures. It’s understandable to look at the overall number, but the dynamics underneath that number are also important because we have different strands of testing.

“The programme of care home worker testing is underway and will continue and then will be routine. Everything we do right now is to suppress the virus – it’s why we’re taking a cautious approach coming out of lockdown and making sure our programmes for testing are able to keep the virus suppressed.”

However Ms Sturgeon was also accused of a “consistent disconnect between parliamentary pronouncements and the reality”, when it came to care home workers and testing by Richard Leonard.

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The Scottish Labour leader said care workers were being refused testing unless they displayed Covid-19 symptoms, which went against the First Minister’s claim that they would be tested routinely even if asymptomatic.

“Three weeks ago, I was contacted by a care worker in South Lanarkshire. She had watched the First Minister tell me in Parliament that day at FMQs that tests were no longer limited to care workers who were symptomatic,” he said.

“But when she approached her manager she was told that she could only have a test if she had symptoms. When she went onto the online test portal, it told her the same. When she tried the NHS Lanarkshire website it rejected her. This worker has still not been tested. She is concerned about her family and the vulnerable people she cares for.”

Mr Leonard also said NHS Lanarkshire had confirmed that it was still “working through the operational implications of the recent Scottish government announcement on testing of all care home staff on a weekly basis”.

Nicola Sturgeon, said: “This is a programme which is underway and progressing and the Health Secretary will set out more details of the programme of delivery of that and we will publish data from that. There are different strands of access to testing: testing through the portal and drive through centres is for people who are symptomatic. routine testing for health and care staff and non-symptomatic staff is being organised through NHS boards with public health advisors overseeing that.”

She added: “Part of my daily responsibility with my ministers is to give people confidence in how we’re dealing with this and to set out very clearly and candidly the steps we’re taking and the challenges we face, which is why the majority of people continue to express confidence in the way the Scottish Government is handling this. We are seeing the number of deaths overall, and in care homes, declining now significantly which says the package of measures we have in place is having the effect we want it to have.

“We will ensure that the policies we announce are delivered and the data published to allow us to be held to account. Let’s not forget care home bosses have a responsibility too, working with us, in partnership to make sure care homes are safe.”

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