Coronavirus testing will be expanded to all frontline health and social care staff, care home visitors, hospital patients and students returning home over Christmas, Scotland’s Health Secretary has announced.
Jeane Freeman told the Scottish Parliament the number of lateral flow tests will be ramped up to give fast results.
All frontline NHS and social care staff will all be able to access routine testing by the end of the year, Ms Freeman said, as well as more testing of patients who are admitted to Scotland’s hospitals.
Testing for all accident and emergency admissions, patients visiting maternity, acute assessment and emergency mental health units will begin by the start of December.
By mid-December, testing will then be offered to all medical and surgical elective admissions.
Detailing the expansion of routine testing for healthcare workers, Ms Freeman said: “Everyone working in patient-facing roles in all of our hospitals, the Scottish Ambulance Service, the Covid-19 assessment centres in the community and the healthcare professionals who visit care homes will receive twice-weekly testing.
“The scale of this challenge is not to be underestimated.”
Ms Freeman also revealed plans to test care home residents’ designated visitor on the day of their visit using lateral flow testing.
“We will use lateral flow testing on the day of the visit. So if that test is positive, family members can take immediate action to isolate and avert the harm that could have arisen,” she said.
However, she said that only some care homes would have access to lateral flow testing initially and cautioned that they are less sensitive than the traditional PCR tests.
“We will roll out lateral flow testing to up to 12 early-adopter care homes across four local authority areas from December 7,” Ms Freeman explained, adding that the government planned to have it fully available by early February.
Visitors to care homes that do not have access to lateral flow testing will be able to take a PCR test in the three-week period over Christmas and the new year, she added.
The lateral flow testing, which does not require analysis in a laboratory, will also be available from next week for university students who plan on returning home over Christmas.
Following the statement, Scottish Labour health and social care spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “News that testing capabilities have improved is welcome. However, these are the same promises we have heard time and time again from the SNP and there is a worrying lack of detail on how testing will work.
“SNP ministers were warned months ago to test all hospital workers routinely to help slow virus transmission. Scottish Labour won a vote in Parliament earlier this month to begin ‘immediate’ testing of NHS and healthcare staff but today the SNP government announced that it will be December before this happens.
“For at-home care workers, they will have to wait until March – a full year on from the start of the pandemic.”
Theresa Fyffe, director of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said: “Routine Covid-19 testing for health and care professionals is an absolute must. Our members need this in order to do their job while keeping themselves, and their patients, safe.
“We therefore welcome the Scottish Government’s announcement about the expansion of routine testing, particularly for healthcare staff working in patient-facing roles and patients on admission. It is also welcome that routine testing will be used to support visiting in care homes.
“The government must ensure tests are easily accessible under this expansion with results delivered quickly.”
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