FMQs: Only a fifth of care home staff tested for Covid-19 despite pledge

Only 11,000 of Scotland’s 53,000 care home staff have been tested for coronavirus despite a Scottish Government pledge three weeks ago for universal, routine testing.
Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood.Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood.
Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood.

Nicola Sturgeon revealed the figure today and said 15,000 of Scotland’s 35,000 care home residents had also been tested.

However Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said that the numbers were “well short” of what was promised by Health Secretary Jeane Freeman on May 18, and that the First Minister needed to set a “hard deadline” for having all care home staff tested.

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The revelation that only 21 per cent of care home staff had been tested was made at First Minister’s Questions, as Ms Sturgeon also disclosed that care home deaths as a result of coronavirus had fallen for the sixth week in a row, down by 27 from last week to 42.

The figures, from the National Records of Scotland also showed that just under half of all registered deaths involving Covid-19 occurred in care homes - 47 per cent, down from 60 per cent five weeks ago.

Mr Carlaw, who raised the issue of the testing of care home staff and residents, said “ministers need to get a grip of the situation” and set a deadline for all staff to be tested.

He added: “NHS Borders is saying it doesn’t have the capacity to carry out tests in care homes in its area. Care home owners in towns like Castle Douglas say none of their staff have been tested unlike those in England a few miles across the border. Today we learned from Scottish Borders Council they’ve received 480 testing kits to cover all 1200 staff in care homes.

“With over 50,000 care home staff, 11,000 while welcome is still well short of the promise made three weeks ago. Ministers need to get a grip of the situation. Will the First Minister commit to setting a hard deadline for delivering those initial tests?”

Mr Sturgeon said she would consider a deadline, and that the government would publish the data of each health board in order to ensure the testing regime was stepped up.

She added: “The Health Secretary and I have been clear we want to see health boards accelerate progress. It’s important we establish this testing on a sound and sustainable basis. This is testing that will happen regularly on an on-going basis so it’s right that health boards make sure it’s carried out quickly and routinely.

“Some of the health board data we are receiving still needs to be validated and then we will look to see whether that [a deadline] is appropriate. This will be on-going testing that will be done week in, week out, for as long as we’re living with this virus.

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“In relation to comments, about getting a grip, we’re seeing the numbers of care homes with an active outbreak reducing, the number of new cases reducing, and the number of people dying now reducing rapidly and on a sustained basis. That says to me the actions that are being taken in care homes to protect residents are working.

“Testing is not the only measure, we must be careful not to put all the focus on testing, especially when it comes to testing asymptomatic people, but it’s a key measure so doing it quickly and sustainably is important.”

Bur Mr Carlaw said the “promise three weeks ago” was not being met, and accused the government of dragging its feet on ensuring health boards were carrying out the tests.

Ms Sturgeon hit back, saying Mr Carlaw was making “unsubstantiated claims” about the government's handling of the outbreak. “We’re seeing cases decline, the number of people in hospital and ICU decline, the number of people dying decline, that’s the progress we are making. When we say that 50,000 staff have to be tested, then there has to be a programme of work put in place to make that happen, that is work ongoing and we will see that progress in the data published later today.”

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