Hundreds of NHS staff caring for cancer patients in Scottish hospitals are not being tested for Covid-19, data shows.

Figures released by Public Health Scotland show 381 healthcare workers in cancer wards and long stay units for elderly patients did not take PCR tests over a period of seven days in June.

Of those, 160 staff actively declined to be tested including 60 on “specialist cancer wards and treatment areas” and 221 were not tested for operational reasons including supply issues or due to work pressures.

The figures also show that nine staff tested positive on those wards in the week up to June 7. The location of the positive tests was not disclosed.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said it was “simply unacceptable” that so many NHS staff were not being tested in high risk wards.

The Scottish Government expanded PCR staff testing in July 2020 to include oncology and haemato-oncology wards and patients over 65 where the length of stay is more than three months.

New research, examining the immune protection of more than 8,000 people after both doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines included 881 people who had been diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.

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Researchers at University College London and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that a high proportion had a  positive response after two doses, including those who had ever been diagnosed with cancer.

However, the researchers noted that in between their first and second dose, fewer cancer patients and those on immunosuppressant treatments showed an immune response and said caution is still required until both doses are given.

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health, Annie Wells MSP, said: “The government must do all it can to encourage people to get Covid tests, particularly on high risk wards where people have tested positive.”

The report also gives a snapshot of vaccine appointment attendance and shows evidence of a social inequality in uptake rates for both first and second doses.

The data shows that people from the most deprived areas of Scotland were twice as likely to fail to attend appointments for their first jag.

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Almost a quarter (24.5 per cent) were recorded as “did not attend”  compared to 13.1% in the most affluent areas.  Of those, in the least affluent areas,  9.4% had received it already or attended a later appointment. 

HeraldScotland:

This compares with 13.1% and 10.3%, respectively in the most affluent areas of Scotland.

For second dose appointments, 24.6% of those from the most deprived area recorded as DNA were later vaccinated, compared with 45.8%  from the most affluent parts.

Public Health Scotland is to carry out further research in this area to gain an evidence-based understanding of the reasons but said lack of flexible working arrangements, lack of childcare and  lack of access to transport were likely to have contributed.

John McKendrick, a professor of social justice at Glasgow Caledonian University said:

“There are a whole bundle of reasons why it might be difficult to keep an appointment. 

“The question that needs to be asked is, have necessary and sufficient steps been taken to enable our most deprived citizens to protect themselves and their families?”

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In response to the staff testing figures, a  spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said:  “All NHS staff working in a healthcare setting are able to take part in twice weekly asymptomatic Covid-19 testing, with the figures showing the overwhelming majority are taking up the tests.

“Reasons a staff member may not have a PCR test include having previously had Covid 19, operational or capacity reasons while on shift or reasons personal to the individual.

In addition, staff who did not do a PCR test that week have access to Lateral Flow Device tests and may have carried out tests at home.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic we have put stringent protocols in place to ensure that infection prevention and control (IPC) measures in hospital and other care settings are robust in addition to asymptomatic staff testing and vaccination.”