Covid: Overwhelming of test-and-protect system is due to Scottish Government's gross negligence – Ian Murray MP

Covid cases are on the rise again and, while the successful vaccination programme means fewer are getting seriously ill, there is still cause for concern.

The Covid-19 track-and-trace app can be used to help curtail the spread of any outbreaks (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The Covid-19 track-and-trace app can be used to help curtail the spread of any outbreaks (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Not least because Scotland is recording almost one in five of the new Covid cases across the UK, when we make up one in 12 of the population.

Some of this is linked to the easing of restrictions with people gathering and travelling to watch Euro 2020 games etc.

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But health boards are also coming under pressure because of the increasing number of staff having to self-isolate, which has a knock-on impact on NHS services, which have still not recovered following the pandemic.

The success of the UK-wide vaccination programme stands in stark contrast to the growing problems with the test-and-protect programme in Scotland. Quite simply, it can’t cope.

Contact rates and times have declined over recent weeks with recorded cases increasing to an all-time high.

The proportion of test-and-protect cases closed within 24 hours has halved from a peak of 80 per cent in early April to 40 per cent in June.

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The most-recent Covid-19 statistical report shows a third of cases from that week hadn’t completed contact tracing by the time of publication. Yesterday it emerged that checks for those arriving from abroad are being paused.

Importing of new strains of the virus from abroad is one of the greatest risks we face, but the Scottish Government hasn’t provided the resources to manage this.

Test-and-protect staff are working tirelessly to keep on top of the growing number of cases, but they are being overwhelmed.

It was inevitable that cases would rise as restrictions were lifted, so the SNP government’s failure to prepare for the extra pressure on test-and-protect is gross negligence.

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The Scottish Government has spent an incredible amount of time trying to spin the data, as internal documents have revealed, and nowhere near enough time on actually building a robust system.

We urgently need to put the resources in place to make sure test-and-protect is able to cope and bring the spread of the virus under control.

Because this is about much more than people having to self-isolate. There is a terrifying backlog of hospital cases, particularly when it comes to cancer.

Data from Public Health Scotland shows that the government’s 62-day cancer treatment target has been missed yet again.

And ministers are falling further behind on meeting the target compared to both the previous quarter and the previous year, even though referrals are six per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

We are storing up an NHS emergency that will cost lives.

We cannot afford to waste any more time and an urgent cancer catch-up plan must be implemented without delay.

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This is even more important given the revelation last week that hundreds of women were wrongly told they did not need to be screened for cervical cancer, with screening services already overstretched coping with a backlog of about 180,000 delayed tests.

Health boards need extra money to help deal with this additional workload.

All this serves as a crucial reminder that we face Covid-related challenges now and will do long into the future, which is why governments must maintain a laser-like focus on recovery and have the systems in place to manage this virus.

Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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