More staff for COVID contact tracing announced
A hundred extra contact tracing staff are being brought in to improve the Test and Protect system, the Scottish Government has announced.
It follows concerns that close contacts of people who had tested positive for COVID-19 were not being contacted quickly enough.
Ascensos, a commercial partner of Test and Protect, has secured 100 staff from Barrhead Travel to increase capacity.
In addition, the government has said bank staff are also being brought on board as positive test results remain high.
Scotland’s health secretary Humza Yousaf said he was “confident” that the system had improved.
According to figures from Public Health Scotland for the week ending 4 July, in 26.8 per cent of cases it took more than three days for tracers to complete the final contact interview.
While that figure is down from 34.9 per cent the previous week, it means just over 73 per cent of cases are closed within 72 hours - below the World Health Organization (WHO) target of 80 per cent.
Yousaf said: “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.
He added: “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.”
But Scottish Lib Dems leader Willie Rennie said the extra staff should have been “ready and waiting”.
He 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 they 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.”