Demands for ‘virtual summit’ to improve Scots care home testing

The Scottish and UK governments have been urged to work together to come up with a joint plan to test, trace and isolate for coronavirus in Scotland.

Union leaders, nurses, and care home chiefs have signed an open letter which calls for a “virtual summit” to be staged by leaders at Holyrood and Westminster.

They warn that “insufficient co-operation” between the two layers of government in Scotland is hampering efforts. They are also calling for preventative testing for all care workers, NHS staff and frontline workers to be put in place in Scotland.

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It comes after Scotland’s health secretary Jeane Freeman said yesterday that all care home staff in Scotland will now be eligible for repeat testing.

The letter, brought together by the think-tank Our Scottish Future, and addressed to both the Prime Minister and First Minister, has been signed by unions including the GMB, Unison, Unite, and Usdaw, the Royal College of Nursing, and several care home employers around Scotland

It argues that the test, trace and isolate approach will require an increase in testing capacity.

The call is supported by former prime minister Gordon Brown and scientist Professor Hugh Pennington.

Mr Brown said: “If there was a vaccine we would tell everyone to ‘get vaccinated’. Given that, in the absence of a vaccine, testing, tracing and isolating is our policy, we should be able to say ‘get tested’ .

“But three months into the disease, only 2.5 per cent of Scots have been tested and even today we are testing at a rate 30 per cent lower than the rest of the UK, even when Scottish ministers are having to admit that rates of infection have been higher than the rest of the UK.

“At around 5,000 tests a day we are running at less than half what even the Scottish Government has stated are needed – and even the announcement that all in care homes will be tested is still not good enough.”

He added: “Tracing only works is there is regular testing and I am shocked that, despite all the warnings, a survey of one group of 15 care homes with 700 residents and 100 staff has found that just 56 per cent of residents and 43 per cent of staff have been tested. It is time to offer every worker and resident regular and routine testing.”

Responsibility for testing is shared in Scotland between NHS Scotland under the Scottish Government, and the UK government’s Department of Health, which is running a series of mobile testing sites across Scotland. Responsibility for analysing and processing the tests is also shared.

A report by Our Scottish Future out today has concluded that there is a clear need to ensure the two parts of the service are better connected if Scotland is to be successful in delivering regular, preventative testing.

Professor Jim Gallagher of Our Scottish Future said: “Scotland will only get ahead of Covid 19 if the Scottish and UK governments work hand in hand.”

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