FMQs: Demands for testing for frontline Scots staff to be stepped up as cases spike

NHS hospital staff are still not receiving weekly tests, it was claimed today, as Nicola Sturgeon faced pressure on the need for Covid testing of health service workers.

The First Minister was forced to defend the government's testing strategy as she revealed another 39 Covid-positive people had died in the past 24 hours.

At First Minister's Questions, Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone said the second wave of Covid during winter further underlined the need for hospital staff to have weekly tests and pointed to remarks by Professor Jackie Taylor, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, that a "coherent strategy" was needed.

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FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon dismisses Covid hospital bed fears
Nicola Sturgeon was quizzed about testing for NHS staff.

Ms Johnstone said she had first raised the issue in April. She said: “It was announced for care home staff on the 25th of May. It’s now the 5th of November, and someone could still be working in a Scottish hospital with Covid and not even know it.

“Liverpool has committed to testing everyone and so has Slovakia. Yet here in Scotland, the Scottish Government lacks the ambition to test all working in our hospitals.

“It’s not good enough that hospital staff who already feel undervalued are not being afforded the reassurance of testing. The Scottish Government’s own testing review established weekly testing as a priority for Scotland, but the First Minister couldn’t give me a date when this will start.

“The workers in Scotland’s NHS deserve more than applause. They deserve the protection of weekly testing."

Scottish Tory Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson also called for the regular testing of ambulance staff who were "going in and out of hospitals and care homes". And Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said Scotland was “behind the curve” and suggested pilot schemes should be rolled out for students returning for Christmas or for areas like Lanarkshire, as is being done in Liverpool.

Ms Sturgeon said she understood “very well the desire of people in our health service who feel they have a higher exposure to Covid to want to be tested more regularly, and we're building that capacity”. “We have to take decisions on the use of that capacity based on clinical advice and prioritisation,” she said.

“We have published our testing strategy, which sets out the clinical groups we would expand testing to next and we will continue to consider other groups as it is possible to do that and ambulance workers and paramedics will be part of that.”

She added: “We already test groups of hospital and health care staff, so all asymptomatic health care staff are tested for Covid where there's an outbreak in a previously Covid-free ward. In the summer that was extended to staff working in highest-risk areas, specialist oncology wards, long-term care of elderly wards and long-term psychiatry wards.

“Health care workers are also offered testing where they are working on non-Covid wards where there is a cluster. Local infection and prevention control teams are also advised to consider testing staff when a single unexpected case of Covid is identified in a ward, and we continue to move forward with the recommendations in our testing strategy, which will extend routine testing in the NHS as it will across social care.

"Our top priority just now is people with symptoms because that's how we best break chains of transmission.”

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