Scots demand for Covid testing to top 50,000 over winter

Demand for coronavirus tests in Scotland is estimated to top 50,000 a day over the winter months - almost double the current capacity, an official review has found.

Demand for Covid testing will surge over Winter
Demand for Covid testing will surge over Winter

But the next few months is also expected to see the amount of daily tests available expanding to reach 65,000 as demand surges, according to the clinical and scientific review of the Scottish government's testing strategy.

It recommends that priority for additional tests is now focused on older Scots who are more likely to suffer serious illness as a result of contracting coronavirus, particularly residents in care homes, as well as staff and visitors.

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Testing of healthcare workers should also be expanded, including those dealing with more vulnerable Scots and there should be more testing of "close contacts" of confirmed positive cases.

There is capacity for about 30,000 tests a day in Scotland, with about two-thirds of these conducted by the UK government's Lighthouse system and the rest by the NHS in Scotland.

But demand is likely to soar over the coming winter months, as more people develop cough and fever-like symptoms from standard colds and flus.

The review states: "The best current understanding of demand is that around 54,000 tests per day are estimated to be required by December 2020."

However, there should be "sufficient capacity" to meet these because current expansion underway to the system means there should be about 65,000 tests day available by December.

Part of this will come from three new regional laboratory hubs which will open during November and December and, when fully functional, will provide at least an additional 22,000 tests per day for NHS Scotland.

The increase in demand will be driven by a hike to about 35,000 people a day being tested for symptoms alone, as well as more tests for hospital patients, NHS staff and additional testing for outbreaks.

The review does suggest the Scottish government may have to prioritise testing on most vulnerable groups, with a focus on "asymptomatic transmission" in care homes.

"This could include extending routine testing to visiting staff in care homes, stratified by risk – focusing first, for example, on those delivering close contact personal care to care home residents - to designated care home visitors, and to staff who provide care at home for those most vulnerable to harm," the review adds.

"We also recommend expanding testing of healthcare workers, with a focus on those caring for the more vulnerable patient groups and potentially too in areas where we are seeing higher community prevalence."

Chief Nursing Officer Professor Fiona McQueen said there must also be a focus on faster turnaround of tests results.

“NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect system is performing well, even with rising cases and the country is on track to expand overall testing capacity to 65,000 tests per day by winter,” she said.

“However, while the full extent of the pandemic in Scotland over the winter months is currently unknown, it is crucial that there is a greater focus on reducing test turnaround times so that we can further reduce transmission by enabling timely contact tracing and isolation of close contacts. Initiatives such as the additional NHS Scotland regional labs will go some way towards this.

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