Care homes across Tayside are urgently awaiting coronavirus tests amid claims capacity is “nowhere near” the level required to keep up with government policy.
Only four homes in Tayside have been fully tested. There are 110 in the area and 18 are currently shut to new admissions after outbreaks.
According to Scottish Government policy announced on May 1, any home with a suspected case should have all staff and residents tested immediately. This should then be followed up with weekly swabs for employees.
NHS Tayside says there are currently 10 homes with ongoing Covid-19 related cases and all staff and residents in the remaining six will be tested over the next week.
The health authority added that wider testing was taking place on a daily basis and that many residents and staff had been tested individually prior to the policy being introduced.
The Scottish Government says health boards must do “everything possible” to keep up with the increased testing regime and are being given additional resources where required.
Scottish Labour MSP and Health and Social Care spokesperson Monica Lennon said lives were being put at risk by a clear “disconnect” between government announcements and reality.
She said: “In many cases this could be a matter of life and death as silent spreaders of the virus are going undetected.
“There is a shocking disconnect between Scottish Government policies and the reality experienced by care workers on the ground – not just in Tayside but across the country.
“Scottish Government promises on testing are not being met, and there are nowhere near enough tests being carried out on a daily basis.”
She said the latest figures showed Covid-19 deaths in care homes exceed hospital deaths, 1,818 as of yesterday’s information from the National Records of Scotland, compared to 1,815, and the sector remained at the epicentre of the crisis.
She added: “The woeful testing rate is putting Scotland’s progress in supressing Covid-19 at risk and it’s putting care home residents, workers and their families in danger.
“We need transparency and action from the First Minister and her government – not soundbites.”
More than half, 56%, of Tayside homes have reported cases to health officials since April with levels of infection judged on a red, amber and green scale.
Three are currently marked as red, 28 are amber and 79 are green.
On Wednesday, the health board suggested testing the roughly 6000 staff currently working in the sector locally would be difficult without assistance.
However, it welcomed the Scottish Government’s offer to make use of its mobile testing units to plug the gap in capacity.
Scottish Conservative MSP for North East Scotland Bill Bowman said it was “mind-blowing” that care homes and families had been left in “no man’s land” in trying to access tests.
He said: “These care workers are on the front line of coronavirus, which is becoming more obvious as deaths in a care setting overtake those in hospital.
“Any public inquiry into the SNP’s handling of this will have to take into account the fact we’re months on without a lifeline for almost 100 Tayside homes.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Health Secretary has made clear that the safety, protection and wellbeing of residents and staff in our care home sector is a priority and that is why we have taken a number of steps to significantly expand testing for this group.
“Health boards and local health protection teams are working to ensure care homes are supported in the transition to this new increased testing regime – and we require all boards across the country to ensure they are doing everything possible to meet this objective, and are prioritising testing needs based on clinical advice and the clear national policy.
“We are working with them to offer support, including further information on accessing mobile testing units and the UK Government Covid-19 Social Care Testing Portal, and to ensure that that this is done in a planned way, and in line with national guidance.”
A spokesperson for NHS Tayside said: “NHS Tayside is following guidance from Public Health Scotland which sets out that care homes with new or recent positive cases should be prioritised for enhanced testing.
“Care homes that have ongoing cases of COVID-19 are contacted daily by Public Health to discuss any clinical concerns, resident wellbeing or staff absence issues.
“Arrangements remain in place so that any new report of an outbreak of confirmed COVID-19 in a care home will trigger testing by the NHS Tayside team for all staff and residents (including in any linked homes) within 72 hours.”