TRACKING of how many coronavirus tests are being carried out on residents and staff at Scotland's care homes partly aimed at 'naming and shaming' underperforming NHS boards has been abandoned because it has become unreliable.

It has been confirmed that the Scottish Government will no longer publish the number of tests carried out on staff and residents saying that the data provided was considered "increasingly incomplete".

Papers seen by the Herald raise further questions about the reliability of tracking of Covid-19 in care homes, as they state that information on whether homes had suspected cases was "incomplete" in some health board returns.

Last month, the Government said it intended to publish board-by-board data on the number of tests conducted each week in a move that would highlight those health boards which failed to deliver the Scottish Government’s policy of routinely testing care home staff for coronavirus after embarrassing Nicola Sturgeon.

The government's track and trace policy was set up to ensure there was no further spread of Covid-19 and there has been increasing calls to ensure it is fit-for-purpose as the country opens up to tourists this month and children return to school next month.

The Scottish Government is continuing to declare the number of care staff and residents being tested - even though it is accepted they are not an accurate picture either.

Scotland’s health secretary, Jeane Freeman announced on May 18 that all 53,000 care home staff would be offered weekly tests to help cut infections in homes, the site of around half of Scotland’s Covid deaths.

But the 14 regional boards moved at different speeds, leading to a growing political row.

HeraldScotland:

And official figures show that target has not been hit - with the latest data showing just over 33,000 were reported to have been tested in the last full week.

However the latest data on all testing across Scotland through the NHS, mobile tests and drive throughs, shows that in the last full week there were 30,828 checks in hospitals, care homes or the community. The numbers do not include postal tests.

While the Scottish Government has ramped up 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 on a current average of 4404 checks a day.

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.

READ MORE: Care home testing: NHS boards will be named and shamed

The Scottish Conservatives have registered their concerns about the apparent lack of testing and the veracity of the official figures.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “The SNP’s pledge to test all care home staff routinely could not have been clearer.

“Yet since then it’s attempted to obscure the process by not being clear or reliable about progress.

“Most people would take Jeane Freeman’s pledge for routine testing to mean all 50,000 care home staff were regularly offered a test.

“But this clearly hasn’t happened, and the secretive SNP is doing everything it can to stop people finding out.”

It comes as Nicola Sturgeon warned the public to continue to be on their guard over Covid-19 on Friday as an additional 18 positive cases were confirmed, the highest figure we have seen in almost three weeks, and the government will be looking into this "very closely".

HeraldScotland:

In the first week of June, the health secretary ordered board chief executives to send her new detailed plans immediately for delivering the policy of routine testing of care homes staff.

She told them their current plans lacked “the level of detail required to give assurance to me and to the public that commitments on testing will be fulfilled”.

She demanded details of how many tests were needed in each board area, local capacity, how tests would be organised and how many were being performed.

The publication of board-by-board data on the number of tests conducted each week was aimed at highlighting any stragglers.

She wrote: “This will be scrutinised carefully by the Scottish Government oversight group, by Ministers and also by wider interests. It is therefore crucial that you are closely monitoring progress in your own area to comply with this direction.”

At the time Ms Sturgeon was repeatedly attacked over the missing tests and accused of letting down residents and staff.

READ MORE: Revealed - The scale of "hasty" move of elderly from hospital to Scots care homes over coronavirus

Opposition parties accused Ms Freeman’s of showing she was trying to “pass the buck” for a policy she announced before checking boards that were ready to deliver it.

The decision to scrap publication of the number of tests carried out in care homes, came after the Herald on Sunday revealed what appeared to be huge discrepancies in the tracking, while the Scottish Government has previously delayed publishing certain data on the effects of Covid-19 because they wished "robust figures".

While 14,896 staff were tested according to NHS boards in one full week at the end of June, just 3300 actual tests were carried out within the NHS in that same period.

Official explanations stated the number of staff tested, provided by NHS boards, were an undercount because in some cases there was "incomplete data" while in another case there was a "reporting lag".

HeraldScotland:

In early June, 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.

The Scottish Government's explanation for stopping the publication of the number of tests of care home staff provided by health boards was because it was considered "increasingly incomplete" due to the "number of testing routes now available beyond samples being analysed in NHS labs".

Action was taken because it was "partial information", as it did not distinguish between homes with or without confirmed Covid-19 or the number of care homes that were covered.

It said it had decided to continue to publish the number of staff and residents that have been tested on a weekly basis from information supplied by the same health boards which it says provided a "fuller and more accurate picture of care home staff and resident testing".

However in the past weeks the Scottish Government in separate documents has said even that data was not accurate describing it as an "undercount" because in some cases complete information was not collected for all care homes.

READ MORE: Scottish Care warns of new wave of virus in damning critique of government handling of Covid outbreak

For the week beginning June 15, it said that Lanarkshire captured 74 out of 93 care homes, and Grampian numbers were "incomplete" as data for care homes in Aberdeenshire is not captured. It accounted for around 45% of all care homes in NHS Grampian.

For the week starting June 22, the Lanarkshire and Grampian numbers were again incomplete.

Meanwhile Lothian reported that there may be an "undercount due to a reporting lag" and that numbers of staff tested had to be inferred/assumed from recorded social care portal usage".

And in the latest full week, commencing June 29 official reports state that the numbers of care home staff were still an undercount with issues continuing in Lothian surrounding "data completeness and data quality".

Across Scotland around 68,000 people receive home care support, 34,000 are residents in care homes and 125,000 are employed in these services.

At least 135 of Scotland's care homes still have at least one suspected Covid case.

In May, Scotland's main care body warned that a second wave of Covid-19 could bring a potentially devastating shift of the disease out of care homes, raising concerns about a "haphazard" testing system for key workers.

Scottish Care unveiled shocking failures that allowed coronavirus to run rampant through Scotland's care homes, leaving hundreds of elderly people dead.

As of last week, more people have died in care homes (1,939) than hospitals (1,937) since the Covid-19 outbreak began in Scotland.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Health Secretary has made clear her absolute commitment to ensuring every care home has access to testing for every member of staff, every week and we are making significant progress to ensure this will be the case in the very near future.

“We have taken a number of steps to support the delivery of this testing, including the launch of the Social Care Portal and deploying mobile testing units to offer support in priority areas – particularly for care homes and anywhere where there’s an outbreak.

“The safety, protection and wellbeing of residents and staff in our care home sector is and always has been a priority.

“Right from the start of this crisis, guidance to care homes was that infection management and control is paramount in keeping residents and staff safe. As we have learned more about the virus, we significantly expanded the testing programme as well as introducing strengthened clinical oversight to help keep care home residents and care workers safe and we continue to focus our efforts and attention on that.

"Health Protection Scotland has been continually proactively monitoring COVID-19 incidents in both hospital and community settings to ensure patient safety.”