NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of political "spin" after denying Scotland's coronavirus contact tracing system is being outsourced. 

The First Minister said "a small number of staff" have been recruited from private companies on a short-term basis. 

But Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard wrote on social media: "Never mind the spin, this is outsourcing of NHS services plain and simple.

"We need to know how much public money is going into private hands."

Ms Sturgeon faced questions at her regular coronavirus briefing after it was reported private companies have been hired to help deliver the contact tracing system. 

Barrhead Travel and Motherwell-based call centre firm Ascensos will both be providing staff, it emerged. 

Ascensos was awarded a £1.3 million contract directly from NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) for providing additional contact tracers on September 23, according to the Public Contracts Scotland website.

The contract, which was not put out to tender, was described as being for the “immediate and rapid deployment of additional track and trace contact tracers”.

Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon said: "Test and Protect in Scotland is an NHS service.

"We have not and we will not outsource any parts of our contact tracing system and no parts of the contact tracing system is run by the private sector, and I want to make that very clear."

She added: "What National Services Scotland has done is recruit a small number of staff on a short-term basis from private companies as we migrate from a system that in its early days was staffed by people within the NHS who could be called on, as we migrate from that to a permanent workforce.

"But this small number of staff recruited from the private sector work within the NHS system, they work under direction of the NHS, they are trained in Test and Protect and they work as part of that integrated NHS system - they are not working to a private company that has been given the responsibility of running contact tracing.

"That's not semantics, that's a very, very different thing."

The NHS had originally moved staff from other departments into contact tracing work. 

However a more permanent solution was needed and recruitment began for 2,000 full-time staff to work solely on Test and Protect.

The First Minister said 1,800 contact tracers are available to Test and Protect and that figure is expected to rise by 245 before the end of the month.

Ms Sturgeon suggested the £1.3m contract with Ascensos is for fewer than 100 contact tracers.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the SNP's answers "are shifting all the time". 

He said: "The First Minister claimed no private firms would be involved in contact tracing then behind closed doors, they brought companies in to help.

“It’s a ridiculous situation when we’re being asked to believe that apparently it’s not outsourcing if the SNP are the ones doing the outsourcing.

“When they get caught out, they don’t own up to their shortcomings. 

"They tried again today to claim they met their promise to recruit 2,000 contact tracers by June, when it’s plain that they didn’t.

“The real problem is not the recruiting of Barrhead Travel staff for contact tracing efforts, it’s the fact the SNP tried to keep it hidden and denied what’s really going on.

“They are consistently keeping information secret, whether it’s about the scandal of care home deaths or the lack of Test and Protect data that experts say they need.”

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the move is a sign ministers are "struggling" to provide a contact tracing service.

He said: "This contract will not be enough if it is just filling the gaps left by staff returning to their original jobs.

"The fact that the SNP Government are outsourcing this work is a sign that they are struggling to deliver an effective tracing system, especially when they have previously criticised the use of such outsourcing by the Conservative Government."

Official documents show the NSS awarded global consultants KPMG a £500,000 contract in May for “programme support services” for “trace, test, isolate and support”.

Later the same month, it awarded a £790,000 deal to Buckinghamshire-based 8x8 Ltd, who provide online communications systems, for “virtual contact centre software and services”.

The work was categorised as “contact centre service for contact tracing”.

In July, NSS awarded a £330,000 contract to Irish firm Nearform Ltd for “a proximity tracing app for Scotland and technical support services”.

And last month, NSS awarded a contract for £23,750 to Glasgow-based Elite Training and Consultancy Ltd for the “delivery of on boarding digital events for contact tracing”.