Additional staff are being brought in to bolster Scotland’s Test and Protect system – after it was revealed that it failed to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) targets.
It comes amidst a rise in cases of coronavirus in Scotland, with the latest figures seeing 2802 new cases recorded.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that she will update the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday as to whether Scotland will be able to move to level zero on July 19.
Ascensos, one of Test and Protect’s existing commercial partners, has now agreed an arrangement with Barrhead Travel to accelerate and augment the capacity they are providing to the contact tracing system by 100 staff.
Additional contact tracing bank staff continue to be brought on board, with existing bank staff mobilised, the Scottish Government indicated.
Changes to the system have also been implemented, with the aim of ensuring a growing number of cases are closed by contact tracers and that high risk cases are prioritised.
These include greater use of text messaging to contact lower risk index cases and digital self-tracing forms.
Statistics earlier this week showed that 73.2% of cases within the system were closed within 72 hours – below the WHO’s target of 80%.
Health secretary Humza Yousaf said that system will change as the population becomes more protected by vaccination.
“Our Test and Protect workforce have played a vital role in the battle against this pandemic. We owe these contact tracing teams a huge debt of gratitude for all their efforts over the past year,” said Yousaf.
“The Test and Protect system has continued to operate well as case numbers have increased in recent weeks, contacting unprecedented numbers of people.
“This agreement to bring in additional staff follows our ongoing efforts this year to ensure commercial partners were on board in preparation for potential increases in demand on the contact tracing system.
“This extra workforce is important, but the success of the system going forward will not simply be about staffing numbers.”
Yousaf said that he is “confident” that the performance of the system has started to improve.
He said: “Test and Protect will change as the population becomes more protected by vaccination and it will still play a key role in mitigating clusters and outbreaks in high risk settings, slowing infection spread and protecting populations at risk.
“As we announced last week, we are now using a variety of methods to contact people, including using digital methods like SMS messages for lower risk cases and prioritising calls for higher risk cases.
“These changes, along with extra staffing, will ensure that people are contact traced, and begin self-isolation, as quickly as possible. I’m confident that the performance of Test and Protect has started to improve in recent days.”
The health secretary warned that Scots will have to manage living with the virus for “some time to come”.
“The majority of people comply when asked to self-isolate and we are thankful for the important role they are continue to play in stopping transmission of Covid-19,” he said.
“We will have to manage living with Covid-19 for some time to come, even when we are able to move beyond Level 0.
“While we hope we are in the process of emerging from the pandemic, case rates at the moment underline the fact that this virus is still with us.”
“They took their eye off the ball at a critical moment and failed to resource the system to cope with a surge in cases in Scotland.”Annie Wells, Scottish Conservatives
Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “The SNP have let the vital Test and Protect system become completely overwhelmed before finally waking up and putting plans in place to recruit more staff.
“Critical World Health Organisation targets to close cases within 72 hours have not been met for two weeks in a row, yet the First Minister and the SNP’s health secretary are shamefully insisting Test and Protect is still performing well.
“They took their eye off the ball at a critical moment and failed to resource the system to cope with a surge in cases in Scotland. “
Wells added: “SNP ministers are now performing a U-turn and playing catch-up to try and stop any further and spread of Covid, ahead of the planned easing of restrictions in the coming weeks.
“It is on their watch that more staff weren’t already recruited to ensure Test and Protect was still working robustly, which is threatening to put the relaxation of restrictions at risk for people and businesses.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “This is an admission that the system isn’t coping, and that the government lost control.
“The pressure on Test and Protect was entirely predictable as restrictions eased.
“These staff should have been ready and waiting. But the Scottish Government let cases get carried away, and failed to make sure that we had enough contract tracers to handle them.
“Fifteen months into a pandemic, we shouldn’t be seeing problems like this. A functioning tracing system is one of the basic requirements for any kind of new normal.
“The Scottish Government need to keep their eye on the ball, and make sure predictable problems like this are dealt with.”