PUBLIC-FACING healthcare workers are to receive twice-weekly testing as part of a "significant" expansion of coronavirus tests, ministers have announced.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said Scotland will move to testing "hundreds of thousands of people without symptoms to actively find the virus". 

Up to 12,000 people are also set to be tested in Johnstone in Renfrewshire next week - where there have been a nigh number of cases - using a new "asymptomatic test site".

Ms Freeman said testing will be expanded for all hospital admissions in December.

Speaking in Holyrood, she said: "Everyone working in patient-facing roles in all of our hospitals, the Scottish Ambulance Service, Covid assessment centres in the community and the healthcare professionals who visit care homes will receive twice-weekly testing."

She said the scale of the challenge is "not to be underestimated", with NHS Scotland employing more than 170,000 people, many of them in patient-facing roles.

She added: "We will phase in this extension from the start of December to be completed by the end of that month."

Lateral flow devices - a clinically validated swab antigen test that does not require a laboratory for processing and can produce rapid results within half an hour at the location of the test - have significantly boosted capacity.

In the social care sector, testing will be expanded over the coming months for designated visitors, visiting professional staff, and care at home workers.

Visitor testing will initially be introduced in up to 12 care homes across four local authority areas from December 7, with a full roll-out planned for January.

Ms Freeman said those not included in the early stages will have access to traditional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing in the weeks beginning December 21 and 28 and January 4.

Elsewhere, testing will be extended to home carers, including personal assistants, from mid January.

This will cover residential settings, sheltered housing and daycare. 

Students travelling home at the end of term will be able to take voluntary coronavirus tests through their college or university from next Monday.

Meanwhile, from the return of the school term in January, a number of school pilots will also get underway with the aim of establishing a sustainable programme of asymptomatic testing amongst school staff.

Ms Freeman said: "Our testing capability now enables us to work with local partners to trial whole community testing in exactly those areas where transmission has stayed stubbornly high. 

"Next week we will be deploying up to six additional mobile testing units and 20,000 home test kits to support work in five local authority areas: Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East and South Ayrshire and Clackmannanshire."

The Health Secretary said an "asymptomatic test site" using lateral flow testing will be set up in Johnstone in Renfrewshire, which has a high number of cases.

This will have the capacity to test up to 12,000 people over the course of the week.

The results of these pilots will inform plans for a wider programme of targeted community testing in early 2021. 

Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone said: “I’m delighted the Scottish Government has finally committed to the regular testing of NHS staff and extending testing in social care. 

"I have spent seven months asking for this simple commitment to protect our workers, and it will be a vital tool in controlling the virus as we head towards a third wave in January.

“It is disappointing however that the same level of protection has not yet been offered to teachers and other school staff, especially if we are anticipating that schools will return after a Christmas break in which households will be able to mix.

“The increase in community testing will also be a vital tool in getting our lives closer to normal again, especially for those who are a low priority for the vaccine, so the Scottish Government cannot spend another seven months getting round to it.”