Scottish Government announces ‘significant’ expansion of coronavirus testing for hospital patients and staff

Georgina Hayes
·4-min read
Testing will be expanded to all frontline health and social care staff, care home visitors, hospital patients and students returning home for Christmas - PA
Testing will be expanded to all frontline health and social care staff, care home visitors, hospital patients and students returning home for Christmas - PA

Coronavirus testing will be expanded to all frontline health and social care staff, care home visitors, hospital patients and students returning home for Christmas, Scotland’s Health Secretary has announced.

From next week, twice-weekly lateral flow testing will be introduced for all patient-facing staff working in hospitals, Covid-19 Assessment Centres and the Scottish Ambulance Service, while all emergency admissions into hospital will also be tested for the virus.

Lateral flow tests are high rapid turnaround tests which can display results within 15 to 30 minutes. 

Testing for patients visiting maternity, acute assessment and emergency mental health units will begin by the start of December, and testing will be introduced for all elective admissions to hospital from mid-December.

Jeane Freeman told the Scottish Parliament that the number of lateral flow tests will be ramped up to give fast results.

Detailing the expansion of routine testing for healthcare workers, Ms Freeman said the scale of the challenge “is not to be underestimated”.

International comparison of coronavirus test rates and death rates
International comparison of coronavirus test rates and death rates

Ms Freeman also revealed plans to test care home residents' designated visitor on the day of their visit using lateral flow testing.

"We will use lateral flow testing on the day of the visit. So if that test is positive, family members can take immediate action to isolate and avert the harm that could have arisen," she said.

However, she said that only some care homes would have access to lateral flow testing initially and cautioned that they are less sensitive than the traditional PCR tests.

"We will roll out lateral flow testing to up to 12 early-adopter care homes across four local authority areas from December 7," Ms Freeman explained, adding that the Government planned to have it fully available by early February.

Visitors to care homes that do not have access to lateral flow testing will be able to take a PCR test in the three-week period over Christmas and the New Year, she added.

December will also see the start of a testing programme designed to get students home for Christmas. The lateral flow testing, which does not require analysis in a laboratory, will begin at many Scottish universities from November 30.

And in areas currently under Level 4 restrictions, a targeted geographical testing pilot scheme will begin in communities covered by NHS Ayrshire and Arran, Forth Valley, and Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

The trial will include an asymptomatic test site with capacity to test up to 12,000 people over the course of a week in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, and the results from the pilot will inform plans for a wider programme of targeted testing in the New Year.

A number of school pilots will also get underway with the aim of establishing a sustainable programme of asymptomatic testing amongst school staff.

Ms Freeman said: “Our plans to deliver significantly expanded testing in Scotland will provide further protection for our communities, our extraordinary health and social care staff and the people they serve and are fully aligned with the clear advice from the senior clinical and scientific advisers who reviewed our Testing Strategy.”

While welcoming the move, opposition parties have questioned why it has taken so long for the SNP to increase testing capacity and accused the scheme as “severely lacking in ambition”.

Following the statement, Scottish Labour health and social care spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: "News that testing capabilities have improved is welcome. However, these are the same promises we have heard time and time again from the SNP and there is a worrying lack of detail on how testing will work.

"SNP ministers were warned months ago to test all hospital workers routinely to help slow virus transmission,” she said.

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton accused SNP ministers of “squandering” the calmer summer months “when they should have been rapidly increasing testing capacity.”

“This pilot scheme is severely lacking in ambition,” he said. “Nine months into this crisis the Government is heralding 12,000 tests in a town as substantial progress. Slovakia managed to test its entire population in two weekends. 

“Now we’re left in the sorry situation where care home visitors and other key sectors will be forced to wait longer for important tests. We should at the very least have the capability to test all tier 4 areas. That’s not good enough.”