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Scottish Covid testing falls to lowest level in more than a month

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THE number of Covid tests carried out in Scotland has fallen to its lowest level in over a month, with barely a fifth of the country’s capacity being used.

Official figures released by the Scottish Government showed just 3,229 out of a potential 15,500 tests were conducted on Saturday, despite all 40,000 care home staff in Scotland being offered regular testing to help stem infections.

It was the lowest level since April 28, when testing capacity was 8,350.

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The UK Government said it had conducted just over 115,000 tests on Saturday out of a 200,000 capacity.

The latest figures coincided with the first days of the Scottish Government’s new contact tracing programme, Test and Protect, the cornerstone of easing the lockdown.

The Scottish Tories said the number of test being “missed” was shocking, with the numbers conducted falling more than 212,000 thousand short of capacity so far in the outbreak.

The Scottish Government also confirmed a further nine deaths from Covid in the 24 hours to Sunday, taking the total for laboratory-confirmed fatalities to 2,362.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced NHS services would return over the coming months on a “cautious, phased basis” and set out the principles that would guide the government’s approach in the next 100 days.

The three main elements are treating as many people at risk of having their treatments suspended as possible, ensuring capacity for treatment, and preparing services for winter.

Scottish Labour said it lacked detail and described it as “vague”.

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Mr Freeman also came under fire from one of Scotland’s leading care home operators.

Tony Banks, whose Balhousie Care group operates 26 homes with 940 residents, said the first three months of the pandemic had been characterised by “mixed messages, mismanagement and missed opportunities by the Scottish Government”.

Writing in the Herald on Sunday, he said the testing of residents was “simply not delivered”, and care home operators felt “betrayed”.

He said: “The strategy from the Scottish Government was clear from the start: to protect the NHS. And it was successful. But at the expense of this: hundreds of care home residents have passed away before their time.”

Ms Freeman said she would be “very happy” to meet with Mr Banks.

She said: “I don’t believe that our messages have been mixed messages at all. We sent out very clear guidance on 13th of March on what we were asking care home and care providers to do to keep their residents safe.

“We worked on the premise, as we were right to do, that all care homes understood the importance of quality infection prevention and control.

“All of the decisions we have taken at various points throughout this period have been informed by both the advice and evidence that we’ve received, and by the issues as they have been raised with us by Scottish Care, the group that represents the vast majority of care home providers in Scotland.

“We have taken the best decisions we could take in the circumstances at each step, as we had that evidence and responded quickly to the issues Scottish Care raised with us.”

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She said the final verdict on the decisions taken would be made “in the fullness off time”.

Ms Freeman said the return of NHS services which had been suspended for the lockdown would see hospitals start doing “some elective surgery that is urgent and has been postponed”.

Cancer services would also be a priority and mental health support would be made “more widely available”, she said.

The care provided at emergency dental hubs would also be expanded as dentists prepare to return to work.

She said: “We are taking an evidence-based, cautious and phased approach to resuming services to ensure the virus continues to be suppressed. While NHS Scotland will remain on an emergency footing, this framework sets out our approach for the next phases as we continue to respond to this pandemic.

“Our approach is not only driven by clinical priorities but also what matters to people’s quality of life, like pain clinics, dental treatment and preventative work like cancer screening.”

Asked at the daily briefing, if the Government was squandering its testing capacity, Ms Freeman said: “We are wise to have that capacity based on the planning assumptions we have made for Test and Protect.

“There are [different] routes by which the capacity is used – the demand-led route where care workers come forward and book a test.

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“And the route that we initiate – those that are over 70 in our hospital settings, those in ICU, those in respiratory wards, surveillance testing. And then we have Test and Protect, asking people who have symptoms of the virus to contact NHS inform or NHS24 to book a test and self-isolate..

“As the care home testing continues, the capacity moves up and down depending on where the care home testing is as any one point..

“We have testing capacity of 15,500 because that is us being ready, as measures are eased from lockdown, to be able to continue to quell the transmission of the virus through testing.”

Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said: “It is now obvious the SNP haven’t delivered anything like the number of tests they promised.

“Because of that, there is far less data to inform the science behind the decisions to ease – or tighten – lockdown.

“More adequate testing would also allow more transparency and a weekly update for the people and businesses of Scotland.

“To get out of lockdown and give people the confidence they need to work and care effectively, this capacity needs to be used to its fullest, every day.

“It is shocking that more than 200,000 tests have never left the box.”

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