Call for Scottish-UK Government “Testing Summit” to boost Coronavirus response

THE Scottish and UK Governments should convene an urgent ‘virtual summit’ to agree a joint plan to test, trace and isolate COVID 19 in Scotland, an open letter signed by union leaders and Care Home chiefs declares today.

The letter, brought together by the think-tank Our Scottish Future and addressed to both the First Minister and Prime Minister, has been signed by unions including the GMB, Unison, Unite and Usdaw, and several care home employers around Scotland.

It argues that regular preventative testing for all care workers, NHS staff and frontline workers must be put in place in Scotland without delay, and that a massive increase in testing capacity is therefore needed.

However, it warns that “insufficient cooperation” between the two layers of government in Scotland is hampering efforts to do so.

The letter therefore calls for the two governments to come together along with public health experts, unions and employers to set out a clear, shared plan of action for the months ahead.

The Scottish Government has said it intends to move to a new “test, trace and isolate” strategy by the end of this month.

Responsibility for testing is shared in Scotland between NHS Scotland under the Scottish Government, and the UK Government Department of Health, which is running a series of mobile testing sites across Scotland. Responsibility for analysing and processing the tests is also shared.

A report by Our Scottish Future -  attached  - has concluded that there is a clear need to ensure the two parts of the service are better connected if Scotland is to be successful in delivering regular, preventative mass testing.

However, recent days have provided further evidence that efforts are being hampered by a lack of coordination. It has been reported that:

·        Scottish Government figures showing the number of COVID 19 cases do not include feedback from the 30,000 tests so far carried out by UK Government facilities – meaning the total number of cases may be much higher than thought.

·        Testing in Scotland is still running well below the capacity being offered by the Scottish and UK Governments – with some waits for results also longer than in other parts of the UK.

·        Testing sites run by the UK Government are not being adequately publicised, and therefore are not being used sufficiently

·        Calls for all care homes and workers to be routinely tested have not yet been agreed by Ministers.

The letter declares that better cooperation between the two Governments on testing, contact tracing and isolating people is vital to help speed up delivery.

On the specific situation in care homes, it adds: "Unlike the rest of the UK there is no commitment as yet to test every care home worker and every care home resident. It is a dereliction of duty that even now all care residents and workers - as well as all NHS workers and other key workers unable to practice social distancing effectively - are not automatically being tested on a regular basis as part of their daily working practices. Even key workers with symptoms are struggling to get tested because the poorly integrated system of sample collection that has been created in Scotland forces many unwell people to travel for hours to get a test." 

Professor Jim Gallagher of Our Scottish Future said: “Scotland’s efforts to get ahead of COVID 19 will be successful if the Scottish and UK Governments work hand in hand, sharing expertise, information and know-how. They should be applauded for where they have done so during this crisis. Now we need to see more.”

“Across Scotland, there’s growing evidence that a lack of coordination and cooperation is hampering efforts to get ahead of COVID 19. On the one hand, the Scottish Government is still unable to guarantee routine testing for care workers, as should happen. Yet on the other, testing centres run by the UK Government are clearly running well below capacity.”

“That points to something wrong in the way the testing system has been set up. That’s why Unions and care home managers are now calling on both Governments to get together to agree a plan, and publish it, setting out how they intend to work together on this.”

“Both have responsibility for delivering a workable test, trace and isolate plan – we now need both to step up to the plate.”

ENDS