Prison chiefs are piloting a new coronavirus testing regime for jail staff but not for inmates before they are transferred or released in Scotland.
North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald wrote to the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) to demand answers last month, after it emerged that tests were not carried out on prisoners before they were moved to different parts of Scotland.
Outbreaks have caused disruption at Scottish jails throughout the pandemic, and Mr Macdonald feared the lack of testing risked spreading the virus between staff, prisoners, their families, and communities.
Teresa Medhurst, interim SPS chief executive, has now responded to Mr Macdonald’s letter.
She said that three pilots had been launched to mass test prison staff at HMP Perth, HMP Greenock and HMP Dumfries.
The SPS boss also said there was “active consideration as to whether regular asymptomatic testing will be offered for those in our care”.
However, Ms Medhurst did not say routine testing would be introduced for inmates before transfer, adding: “As detailed in my last response, if an operational transfer is scheduled, a local risk assessment will be completed by the establishment where the individual is located. This assessment will determine whether or not the transfer goes ahead.”
Mr Macdonald said the response was “disappointing” and he would be writing back to the SPS chief executive.
“The fact that they are piloting staff testing – I mean I am glad that they are doing it – but it’s remarkable that it’s a year into the pandemic before they try and find out if staff testing is a good idea,” he said.
“It’s a shame they didn’t pilot this when the whole thing was brand new, because if they had, they would have it in place everywhere else by now.
“I’d like to see that extended to staff across the estate as quickly as possible.
“But also the specific point I raised was about prisoner transfers and, again, it seems to me to be self-evident that a prisoner that has either been transferred or released should be tested before going out the gate.
“Because that test would determine whether it is safe to transfer or whether, if someone is due for release, they need to go straight into self-isolation.”
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