Nicola Sturgeon demands urgent answers from UK Government on testing 'backlog'
Nicola Sturgeon has said she has “serious concerns” about the impact that a backlog of COVID-19 testing across the UK appears to be having on Scotland.
The First Minister said that Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has “resisted” an attempt by the UK Government to limit the availability of testing slots over the weekend.
She also said that the “apparent delay in turnaround” in UK-run laboratories has meant that fully up-to-date statistics were not available during Monday’s press conference.
Sturgeon announced that an additional 70 positive cases of COVID-19 had been recorded in the previous 24 hours, representing 2.7 per cent of new tests.
But she warned that these figures were likely to be incomplete and said that she expects the figures are in reality higher.
She said: “We now have a serious concern with the backlog of test results by the UK lab network, which the Glasgow Lighthouse lab is a part of, is starting to impact on the timeous reporting of Scottish results.”
The allocation of testing slots is organised on a UK-wide basis and processing is carried out in a network of UK ‘Lighthouse’ labs.
Sturgeon said: “The Health Secretary managed to resist a move to limit access to testing slots in mobile testing units and regional testing centres.
“However, these apparent delays in turnaround are causing us concern and therefore we'll be seeking to escalate these discussions with the UK Government, over the course of today.”
She added: "Let me stress that we are keen - very keen - to play our full part in addressing these issues, and finding solutions to them urgently, but we need the UK Government to share the full scale and nature of the issues they're facing, and the impact that it’s having on Scotland, in order that we can collectively, and very quickly, find solutions.
“We will give an update on any changes to today's figures as soon as possible.”
Sturgeon speculated that an increase in demand for testing caused by the return of schools in England could be related.
But she claimed that people in Scotland are not yet experiencing “significant issues” with accessing tests, as was the case in some regions in August when schools returned in Scotland.
Instead, the increased “turnaround” time in processing test results was leading to a slow down.
Freeman said that she had had “constructive conversations” over the weekend with UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock and health secretaries in Wales and Northern Ireland to discuss the apparent backlog and to make sure testing slots in Scotland were not limited as a result.
She said: “The key for me is that we need to fully understand what are the issues that the UK network of testing or sampling or processing are and trying to address that so that we can then, collectively, with the shared knowledge, work through how that is resolved.
“We can't contribute if we don't know exactly the scale of the problem and the issues and the options that are available.
“We're very ready, as the First Minister said, to play our part in helping to resolve this.”