SCOTLAND has recruited less than half the contract tracers that ministers pledged would be in place by June.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman has admitted that the nation currently has 874 contact tracers across all 14 health boards.

That is despite a pledge to have 2000 who could trace those who infected Covid-19 patients had been in contact with.

The Scottish Government began the search to find the 2000 in May.

Ministers appealed to people to apply for roles as it adopts a new “test, trace, isolate” strategy to tackle coronavirus and help ease lockdown.

Posts including call handlers, health protection nurses and data analysts were open to applications up until May 22.

The First Minister said at the time that the tracing plan involved testing people in the community who have symptoms consistent with Covid-19.

The team would then use contact tracing to identify the close contacts of those cases, who may have had the disease transmitted to them.

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The Scottish Government had set a target for 2000 tracers by the end of May, and Jeane Freeman insisted that number would be ready to be deployed by Thursday.

Today when asked by Scottish Labour's deputy leader Jackie Baillie how many are now employed, Ms Freeman wrote "approximately 874 staff capable of undertaking contact tracing activity were available for deployment" on September 10.

In her written answer to Ms Baillie, Ms Freeman said recruitment is "ongoing".

She added: "We continue to make use of the pipeline of candidates identified through national recruitment, with 300 shortlisted applicants currently concluding the interview process.

HeraldScotland:

"Additionally, a further 25 staff are being recruited by early October to focus on work to follow up with people who are quarantining after arriving into Scotland from abroad from non-exempt countries."

According to the Scottish Government's response, 191 NHS staff trained as contact tracers are available in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area; 96 in Lothian; 72 in Ayrshire and Arran; 55 in Grampian; 53 in Tayside; 42 in the Forth Valley; 36 in Fife; 33 in the Borders; 31 in Lanarkshire, and 19 in both the Highland and Dumfries and Galloway.

On May 27, the health secretary said at total of 1812 contact tracers have been identified to support Scotland’s mass Covid-19 testing regime.

On tracer recruitment, she explained to MSPs they were drawn from three groups: existing NHS staff, former employees returning to the health service to help tackle the pandemic and members of the public recruited through a public advertising campaign.

She said contact tracing teams were being built up from existing local health protection teams which already have “significant degreeof expertise and experience”.

Ms Sturgeon indicated that while the government’s target was to recruit 2000, it believed only around 700 would be needed initially.

Ms Freeman said “test and protect” would be “central part of releasing any of the restrictions of lockdown”, and also sought to assuage concerns over the use of people’s data.

People will need to trust the NHS will hold their personal information – which will be used to trace contacts, who then would be notified they need to self-isolate – with the same levels of protection as medical records.

The health secretary said: “We brought tranmission levels down because of lockdown and because of the huge public compliance with that, with all the sacrifices that involved.

“As we release any of these measures, you would sensibly expect transmission levels to increase.

“‘Test and protect’ is there to quickly identify where that is, crack it down, contain it and stop it going any further.

“It was described as… hunting down the virus and that’s a reasonable explanation.”

Some 13 contact tracers were based within NHS Shetland, 12 in the Western Isles and six in Orkney.

Another 196 are available for deployment by the National Contact Tracing Centre.

Ms Baillie said: "The number of contact tracers is a drop in the ocean of what is required to effectively manage this virus.

"Under 10% of the promised number are working at the National Contact Tracing Centre, with the rest spread across health boards and are pulled from other NHS services which will be under mounting pressure.

“The small number of staff following up on inbound passengers through airports is also woeful, with only 25 to be in place by October, this is an inevitable source for new infections and must be properly managed.

“It’s clear that the recruitment drive at the start was just not good enough so I urge the SNP to do all they can to build these numbers up as the pandemic rises again and we head into the winter period.”