‘Clarity needed’ over number of contact tracers in Scotland

Call comes from Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie amid conflicting statements from ministers.

‘Clarity needed’ over number of contact tracers in Scotland Getty Images

Clarity is needed over the number of contact tracers available in Scotland after conflicting statements from ministers, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie has said.

Earlier this week, health secretary Jeane Freeman said Test and Protect is looking to increase the number of tracers – who track the close contacts of coronavirus cases – to around 1000 by next week.

But on Wednesday night, finance secretary Kate Forbes told the BBC’s Debate Night programme that Scotland has access to 2000 staff tracers.

The Scottish Government committed to training 2000 tracers by June to support Test and Protect operations, but Freeman admitted on September 22 that just 874 people were trained to do the job.

Rennie is pushing the Scottish Government to clarify how many contact tracers can be called upon, as analysis by the party shows 567 people waited longer than 48 hours last week to be contacted by Test and Protect.

The government says it met the pledge to have 2000 tracers available by June, partly due to existing NHS staff who could be redeployed.

It said staffing levels are flexible and based on demand, with 700 tracers on shift on average over the last week.

Rennie said: “Ministers reassured the public they could expand contact tracer capacity at the snap of their fingers and have double the number of staff in place in 48 hours.

“They told us they had access to 2000 tracers.

“Weeks later we have new backlogs and the health secretary is scrabbling to get more staff. What is going on?”

The party leader continued: “Last week alone, government tracers failed to interview 567 people who had tested positive within 48 hours of Test and Protect logging their case.

“That’s up 1400% on a month ago.

“If this was a fully functioning system as ministers claim then people wouldn’t be waiting on tracers calling about their contacts and whereabouts, and certainly not for more than three days.

“These dangerous delays show the system wasn’t ready to be ramped up like we were told.”

The Lib Dem leader accused Scottish ministers of “wasting” the time they were given over the summer and urged officials to interview prospective tracers “within hours, not days”.

Rennie added: “As we head into a dangerous second wave of this virus, people are right to ask why this system wasn’t strengthened sooner.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We set a target of having 2000 contact tracers available by the end of May – and we met it – with contact tracers drawn partly from existing NHS staff who could be redeployed.

“Staffing levels are flexed to match expected demand, though this has fluctuated due to backlogs in receiving test results from the Lighthouse Labs.

“Over the last seven days an average of 700 whole-time equivalent staff have been rostered on shift on a daily basis and this will grow to around 1000 over the coming days.

“If required, overall capacity can be significantly increased at short notice, should that be necessary.

“In the last week to October 11, 3377 individuals – 94% – with a positive test result completed their interview with a contract tracer within 48 hours of being added to the case management system.”

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