More than 1800 contact tracers identified in Scotland

The Scottish Government had set a target of having 2000 tracers by the end of May to support its mass Covid-19 testing regime.

Jeane Freeman: Scotland has capacity for 15,500 daily tests. Getty Images
Jeane Freeman: Scotland has capacity for 15,500 daily tests.

A total of 1812 contact tracers have been identified to support Scotland’s mass Covid-19 testing regime, according to the health secretary.

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

She gave the update ahead of the launch of Scotland’s new “test and protect” scheme on Thursday which will seek to test, trace and isolate all suspected coronavirus cases.

From tomorrow, anyone who shows symptoms of the virus – a fever, a persistent cough or a loss of sense of smell – should immediately book a test through the NHS Inform website or by calling NHS 24 on 0800 028 2816.

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They will then have all their contacts traced and they will all be told to self-isolate for 14 days.

Scots who are tested for coronavirus in NHS labs should have their results back within 24 hours, health secretary Jeane Freeman has said.

She told MSPs “speed is of the essence” in the new “test and protect” strategy.

Anyone who has Covid-19 symptoms is being asked to self-isolate and book a test, with contact-tracing carried out if they are positive.

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Freeman said guidance from the chief medical officer required that turnaround times for tests be 48 hours at the most.

MSPs were told the Scottish Government is aiming for a 24-hour target which Scottish NHS labs are reaching, but that the UK Government’s Lighthouse labs are taking longer.

A policy of testing all suspected cases of the virus was abandoned in March when all four nations of the UK moved to the second “delay phase” of its coronavirus strategy, against the advice of the World Health Organisation.

Giving evidence to Holyrood’s health committee, Freeman also said Scotland had now reached the capacity of 15,500 tests per day.

This was the target set across all labs – NHS labs and the Glasgow Lighthouse super-lab – as the number required to adequately support the “test and protect” scheme as the country starts to leave lockdown.

But opposition parties have criticised the Scottish Government for only actually using around half of its testing capacity – a situation ministers say will change dramatically as the new system comes into force.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said earlier this week that Covid-19 testing would move to “a scale not seen before in Scotland”.

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On tracer recruitment, Freeman 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 degree of expertise and experience”.

The health secretary stressed all tracers recruited would receive extensive training.

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

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.”

She continued: “It centrally requires the public to comply with this and therefore to trust that their data is held confidentially.

“That is why it is an NHS-led exercise and why it is really important people understand that data is held in the same degree of protection and confidentiality as your medical records are held.

“Government ministers cannot access that and it will be held for this purpose only and then no longer held.”