MINISTERS are coming under increasing pressure to ensure there is a fit-for-purpose coronavirus testing regime in schools as they prepare to return next month - as concerns grow over further dips in Covid testing performance in Scotland.

Despite a pledge by Scotland’s health secretary, Jeane Freeman at the end of last month to offer weekly tests to all 50,000 care home workers, it is failing to deliver with new official figures showing just 14,896 staff were tested in the last full week.

More than a quarter of Scotland's over 1000 care homes still have at least one suspected Covid case.

And new analysis of Scotland's track and trace performance shows that despite an expansion in testing facilities - the carrying out of checks against capacity continues to drop.

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Latest official figures show that while the Scottish Government has ramped laboratory facilities to meet its target to have the ability to do 15,500 daily tests across Scotland to deliver Test and Protect - it has been running at little over a quarter of capacity, with an average of 4247 checks a day in hospitals, care homes or the community. The numbers do not include postal tests.

Scotland was testing at little over a third of its capacity on the three days after the First Minister said the ability to screen had been ramped up in preparation for the national Test and Protect scheme going live on May 28.

Nicola Sturgeon indicated on Wednesday that there will be “a big role for testing” to reassure teachers it is safe to return to work when schools in Scotland re-open full time in August.

It came after the Scottish Government confirmed that if success in suppressing the Covid-19 continues, pupils will be welcomed back full time from August 11 – after parents vented their anger over blended learning plans.

But there is growing concern about the ability to deal with the testing demands, based on the performance in care homes and the community.

Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of Scotland's largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said the importance of pro-active testing had been made to the Scottish Government's Covid-19 Education Recovery Group.


"It is a way of getting people on board," he said. "People need to be seen to be proactively tested. "There is a lot of evidence that children are asymptomatic. You won't know they are infected until they infect a teacher or adult. So if you are proactively testing, you are trying to stay ahead of the curve.

"There is testing capacity and it is underused at the moment, and I don't think there is the same level of challenge for testing in schools as there is in the care homes, because they are privately run."

On April 3, the First Minister set out an aim to "proportionately" match with 10% of the 100,000-tests-a-day pledge by the UK health secretary Matt Hancock. On Thursday, the UK government said it was doing 167,023 tests a day.

Further separately calculated official figures show that testing of key workers and their families through NHS labs had dipped to a new low for the month at June 22 and was running at an estimated 400 a day, with checks on care staff and families at 288 a day and health staff and families at 87.4 a day.

Scotland's main care body warned the Scottish Government that workers were not being sufficiently screened at the end of last month and that a second wave of Covid-19 could bring a potentially devastating shift of the disease out of care homes.

It came as Scottish Care talked of shocking failures that allowed coronavirus to run rampant through homes, leaving hundreds of elderly people dead.

Three weeks ago after concerns were raised about the uptake of the care homes policy, Ms Freeman warned health board chief executives in a letter that directives were “not for local interpretation”, and that board-by-board data on the number of completed tests would now be published weekly.


The subsequent care home testing figures reveal a postcode lottery with significant differences in how different parts of the country were coping with new testing policy.

It comes with official admissions over the lack of accuracy of the data due to continual collection issues, raising serious questions over the reliability of tracking.

While the Scottish Government has previously delayed published certain data on the effects of Covid-19 because they wished "robust figures" official numbers appear to show a huge discrepancy.   While 14,896 staff were tested according to NHS boards in the last full week, just 3300 actual tests were carried out within the NHS in the same period.

Official explanations state the number of staff tested, provided by NHS boards, are an undercount because in some cases there was "incomplete data" while in another case there was a "reporting lag". They also made a caveat that the data did not include tests that were carried out by UK routes – regional testing centres and mobile testing.

Earlier this month, the figures showed Scotland’s largest health board, Greater Glasgow and Clyde, tested 1,127 care home staff in a week, compared with Dumfries and Galloway, which tested only four, a huge differential even when adjusted for population.

Scottish Green education spokesperson Ross Greer said everyone deserved to know that "every effort" is being made to protect them, their pupils and their families.

“As one of the Scottish Government’s own scientific advisers said during the week, defeating the virus is 'about testing, testing, testing’, so I was pleased that the education secretary said he was supportive of my call for regular testing for school staff," he said.

“However, there is still a huge gap between the Scottish Government’s commitments on testing and the reality on the ground. They committed to regularly test all care homes staff over a month ago, but last week not even a third of those workers got a test. In total, Scotland is using a fraction of its testing capacity, when front line staff are desperate for reassurances and protection. When the schools go back without social distancing, the same will apply to staff there.

“Given how long it is taking to roll out regular testing in care homes though, it’s clear that if it’s to happen for teachers and school staff from August 11, preparations need to begin now.

“Even if school testing is ready, there are plenty more questions which need addressed, such as if a pupil or member of staff tests positive, will all staff and families in the school community be informed immediately? And if so, how it works within the wider tracing and isolation strategy needs consideration."

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Joanna Murphy, chairman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland said it was crucial that the move to full time education for all next month does not compromise the health and well-being of our children, their families, or school staff.

"It is important that measures are put in place to maintain everyone’s health, safety, and well-being are prioritised and consistent across Scotland. This consistency needs to be reflected in any decisions made around testing of staff and pupils, and the protocols put in place both to avoid, or if required manage, outbreaks of the virus."

The Scottish Government announced earlier in the week that further groups of health and care staff were to also receive weekly testing for coronavirus as well as care home staff.

Staff who work in specialist cancer services, or provide long-term care for the elderly, as well as staff working in residential mental health, were to be offered weekly Covid-19 testing from July 8.

The latest move “aims to protect NHS staff and patients by reducing the spread of the virus in hospitals and other healthcare settings”, noted the government in a statement.

A Scottish Government spokesman said:“While the infrastructure for testing continues to build up, we will continue to work with boards to ensure that more tests can take place, and that the quality of our data continues to improve.

“We will also continue to review testing options for different areas, including education, in relation to further easing of lockdown restrictions.

“The health and wellbeing of pupils and school staff is our priority and schools will only return full-time if scientific advice shows the virus is sufficiently under control. The Education Recovery Group, which brings together councils, teachers’ representatives, parent bodies and trades unions, will continue to meet over the summer to discuss the next steps as we plan for the safe re-opening of schools.”