THE Scottish Government is coming under increasing pressure to speed up and expand testing in care homes if it is to fully protect elderly and vulnerable Scots.

Politicians and care home chiefs say that every single resident and employee must now be tested, whether they have symptoms of coronavirus or not, to stop further deaths and spread of the virus.

According to the Government’s latest figures, from Saturday, 632 care homes in Scotland have reported one suspected case of Covid-19, with 436 reporting more than one.

In total, 58 per cent of the country’s homes have reported at least one suspected case, with the National Records of Scotland confirming that 1,434 residents in care homes have died – almost half the total number of Covid-19 related deaths in Scotland.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard the impact of the virus in care homes “cannot be understated”. 

His calls for more testing come after care home staff and residents in England and Wales last week were told they would all receive tests. 

Mr Leonard said: “We must take decisive action to protect the staff and residents still at risk. 

“That means rather than expecting care home staff to go to testing stations, testing must be taken to them. The Labour-led Welsh Government has responded to this challenge by expanding testing to all care homes and Scottish Labour calls on the Scottish Government to follow this example.”

Jackson Carlaw, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, agreed and said the Scottish Government had been “too slow” to respond to the pandemic in care homes.

He said: “Given the crisis we’ve seen in our care homes during this outbreak, we need to ensure that all staff and residents receive regular tests.

“It’s obvious that care homes are the frontline of this crisis and the SNP have been slow to respond.  

“The current situation means we’re acting too late, with care homes only able to receive tests when they’ve got a confirmed case of the virus.

“And as we move towards the test, trace, isolate phase of our response to Covid-19, testing needs to become more routine. That’s why it’s time to hugely extend testing in Scotland to every care home and every care worker.

“Care homes elsewhere in the UK are receiving 100% testing, anything short of that in Scotland would be unacceptable.”

Scotland’s Health Secretary Jeane Freeman yesterday came under fire over reports that the Government had failed to recruit any of the 2,000 staff needed to become contact tracers, while the UK Government announced it had trained up 17,200 people.

Ms Freeman said that the Government was increasing the work around care homes by testing “all residents, and staff in care homes with an active case”, which will then move to “linked homes where the home in question is part of a chain or group”.

 She said 600 NHS staff had been redeployed to the roles and more than 8,000 people had applied. She said the recruitment strategy had been “three-fold”.

Ms Freeman said: “There are more to come. The 600 are ready to go. That means that they’ve had the additional training that they need. Additional NHS staff are being identified now, as we speak, and will be getting trained as well.” 

The Health Secretary said that people who have returned to the NHS from retirement, as well as those who have applied online, have to go through additional disclosure and pre-employment checks which take time, which is why they have not yet been recruited. 

The Scottish Government announced yesterday that it would be starting work on piloting software for the test, trace and isolate system from today in NHS Fife, Glasgow and the Highlands health boards. 

The pilot, which is expected to last two weeks, will allow the health boards to test out the software which contact tracers will use to collect the information that they need digitally. This adds to existing contact tracing technology already being used in the NHS and will allow health boards to trace more contacts faster.

The system will be in use by all health boards by the end of May, and “enhanced and refined” in June, according to Ms Freeman. 

She said: “The software will allow us to carry out contact tracing on a much large scale than has been necessary until now. It will also focus on supporting public health teams identifying outbreaks and reduce transmission in high risk groups by making it easier for staff to collect and record information.

“The test, trace, isolate and support approach is about breaking the chain of transmission of the virus but it remains vital that alongside this people continue to follow physical distancing advice and practice good hand and cough hygiene.”

The Liberal Democrats welcomed the pilot, but said speed was “of the essence” in the fight against the virus.

Willie Rennie, Scottish LibDems leader, said: “Speed is of the essence in getting this system up and running. The slow rate of progress in getting this going and recruiting tracers has made a lot of people very nervous about the Scottish Government’s ability to make it happen.”

“Our current test and trace capacity is going to have to mushroom very quickly if we’re going to keep people safe as we lift lockdown.”

The Government is to introduce new powers to intervene in failing care homes, Ms Freeman added.

The changes will mean that if there is a “significant risk” to care home residents or “a provider was unable to continue to deliver care due to failure, Scottish ministers and public bodies have the power to intervene”.