Routine Covid hospital testing of Scots over-70s is halted

The requirement for hospitals in Scotland to undertake routine testing of all over-70s for Covid-19 has been ended amid concerns of "discomfort and distress” among older patients.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said today that official guidance was dispatched to NHS boards last month ending the need for older patients to be tested every four days.

Hospitals still have the discretion to carry out tests as they deem appropriate, including if older patients develop symptoms or are suspected of being part of a Covid cluster, Ms Freeman told MSPs.

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"Concerns were expressed by the Covid-10 Nosocomial review group, whose work had informed this policy, about the ethics and impact of repeat over-70s testing - these being discomfort, distress and risking mucosal damage,” she said.

"As large numbers of repeat tests were resulting in a low positive yield, our chief nursing officer advised boards on October 7th that the repeat testing of over-70s was not required unless the person became symptomatic, was part of a Covid-19 cluster or the lead clinician considered it to be necessary.

"But it was also made clear on the 15th of October that repeat four-day testing of those aged 70 or over could continue if boards following a risk assessment felt this was necessary and was reflective of current epidemiological evidence."

The change in guidance does not affect the requirement for all patients aged over 70 to be tested for COVID-19 on admission to hospital.

In April, Nicola Sturgeon ordered that all patients over 70 should be tested on admission to hospital and every four days throughout their stay.

The First Minister said at the time it would help identify if the virus was being "transmitted in the hospital.” More than 80 per cent of all deaths from Covid have occurred in the over-70s.

Tory South of Scotland MSP Brian Whittle criticised the fact that MSPs only discovered the change had been made after reports emerged in the media - and called for key advisers to be hauled before Parliament

"Given the CMO (Gregor Smith) and Jason Leitch are so instrumental in how we tackle this crisis, should Parliament not have the opportunity question them directly as part of openness and transparency?" he said today.

But Ms Freeman insisted that advisers only provide advice - and elected ministers make the final decision.

"The opportunity and the appropriate opportunity to question is to question me," she said.

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