FMQs: Sturgeon pressed on increasing testing for key workers

Nicola Sturgeon has been pressed to speed up the coronavirus testing of frontline workers –including police and fire officers – as MSPs met in Holyrood for the first time since full lockdown measures were put in place.

Nicola Sturgeon was pressed to increase testing for frontline workers.

The First Minister was quizzed at length about who was receiving testing and when more workers would be swabbed, as opposition parties said staff had raised “real anxieties” about an apparent lack of tests.

Revealing that Scotland’s death toll now stood at 76, with 16 more people dying since yesterday, and that there were now 2310 positive cases confirmed – up 317 in 24 hours – Ms Sturgeon said that testing capacity was being increased “at pace” and a new commercial partnership with a laboratory in Glasgow would further speed up the process.

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“We are working at pace right now to significantly increase our testing capacity,” she said. “We’ve gone from having the ability to do around 750 tests a day just a couple of weeks ago to around 1900 tests a day now, and over the next month that will increase to 3500 tests a day.

“This increase will be delivered within the NHS laboratory network. Commercial partnerships being developed at a UK level will increase capacity beyond that, and a new lab has been established in Glasgow which we expect to be operational within the next two weeks.

“As testing capacity expands we will progressively increase the number of health and care service workers who are tested. The other two immediate priorities for testing remain the treatment of serious illness and community surveillance. We will be considering carefully the role of more extensive testing as part of our strategy at the right time of course, to bring the country out of the current lockdown measures.”

The First Minister said she was also hopeful that antibody testing – to see if someone has had the virus – would also be available soon.

However both Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, said more needed to be done to test frontline workers.

Mr Carlaw said “some doctors and nurses are staying home with symptoms, but don't know if they have the virus… will the 3000 tests a day be achieved by end of April and include all health workers?”

Richard Leonard said staff had contacted him with “real anxieties” about a lack of testing and asked for specific numbers on just how many health and care staff have been tested. He also asked why the full testing capacity wasn’t being utilised?

Ms Sturgeon said that there would be 3500 tests a day by end of April, and that key workers were being prioritised and that “we’ve started to priortise key workers on the basis of those most critical to maintaining rotas at the moment, and we will expand that.”

She added: “There are a number of initiatives I would hope would give us significant additional capacity to enable us to accelerate the progress further. But there needs to be a rational basis for prioritising while the capcacity for testing is built up.

“If we are as successful as we want to be to suppress the spread of the virus, we can also use testing to go back to a contained strategy rather than the delay strategy we’re in now.”

She said on reporting daily testing figures of key workers, the government was hoping “to get to a position where we can report daily on tests and the breakdown”, and that 1700 tests were carried out yesterday.

“We want to accelerate testing so more key wokers can be tested, but it’s not a complete panacea for everything. If a healthcare worker is isolating because someone in the family has symptoms, then testing them would not be appropriate.

“I understand the frustrations and the desire to see us increase testing, but in terms of having the equipment and staff trained to do it, it’s not something we can do overnight, but we’ve gone from a position of around 750 a day to where we are now of 1900. So we are increasing capacity and will continue to do so.”

The issue was also raised by Scottish Greens Holyrood co-leader Alison Johnstone who called on the Scottish Government to implement a testing regime for fire and police officers to they don’t self-isolate unnecessarily.

“Testing these frontline emergency personnel must be a priority so we can ensure every healthy emergency worker is able to be at their post throughout this unprecedented crisis,” she said.

Ms Sturgeon said the government was liaising with Police Scotland the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and unions to ensure they are given the appropriate advice and equipment. “On testing, it’s the same answe. We are required to priotirise testing in line with our three objectives and we’ve been prioritising health and social care workers and as we build up that capcaity we will be able to do more than that.”