North-east residents have been urged to get tested for coronavirus after it emerged costly asymptomatic test centres are running below capacity.
Several testing sites have been set up across Grampian in recent weeks as part of plans to help reduce the number of people catching the virus.
People with no symptoms can get checked at sites in Old Aberdeen, Peterhead, Keith, Forres, Lossiemouth, Buckie and Elgin.
And those who test positive are asked to self-isolate at home to prevent passing Covid on to others.
Health officials hoped that each of the seven centres would reach around 20% of the population when they were set up.
But the centres – which have cost a total of £165,181 to set up and run so far – are all running under capacity.
Centres in Old Aberdeen and Peterhead saw just 16% and 12.5% of the patients they were capable of seeing respectively, between their opening in late February and the end of last month.
Only 1,924 residents have been tested at Peterhead’s facility since it opened on February 26th, an average of 30 people per day.
And it has the capacity to test 240 people each day – costing NHS Grampian £97,276 so far to set up and run.
‘I would encourage people to keep thinking this is a challenge’
National clinical director Jason Leitch fears some people may be reluctant to go to the facilities and encouraged everyone to get tested.
Mr Leitch said he tested himself with home kits twice a week along with his family.
He said: “When it’s quiet, and the virus feels a little bit abstract, a little bit distant from real life, people will tend to drop their guard. I would encourage people to keep thinking this is a challenge.
“I wouldn’t expect people to panic or worry too much but do what you can to help us and testing is one of the things you can do.
“And one of the key things we have added over the past few weeks is asymptomatic testing – testing if you don’t have symptoms. And you will probably be negative, but you might not be.
“Everyone gets a surprise when they get a positive test because of the incubation period.”
‘Asymptomatic testing is extremely important’
A total of 5, 264 residents have been tested at the seven facilities since they were set up earlier this year.
Across the whole of Grampian, a maximum of 33 people had tested positive by the end of last month.
But some numbers have been redacted due to there being a small number of cases, meaning the total number of positive cases could be as low as 24.
Karen Adam, the newly elected SNP MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast, admitted the lack of take-up of the tests was worrying.
She said: “Of course I do think that is concerning, but I would be urging people to go and get tested now. We are aware of this.
“We’ve already had people go there to be tested, so I’m extremely grateful to them, and I would just urge anyone who has not used the site already to please do so.
“Asymptomatic testing is extremely important to ensure that we can detect as much of the virus that we can and ensure that people who have the virus but they don’t realise it can self-isolate.
“Of course the asymptomatic sites aren’t the only defence against the virus, we also have home testing kits so that’s another way of ensuring that people can be tested and to take that offer up.
“We’ve already made incredible progress in supressing the virus through restrictions and the vaccine rollout and I don’t want to see us having to go backwards now.”
‘There’s no room for complacency at all’
Douglas Lumsden, Scottish Conservative MSP for the north-east and a councillor in Aberdeen, said: “Across Grampian our numbers have been very encouraging, but there’s no room for complacency at all.
“The role that these testing centres play is going to be vital as we go forward – especially as we see the restrictions being eased.”
An NHS Grampian spokeswoman said: “Testing is a vital part of our ongoing response to Covid-19.
“We know one in three people with the virus don’t display any symptoms, which is why it is so important to get tested regularly, even if vaccinated.
“The asymptomatic testing sites across the north-east remain open, or people can order test kits to be delivered to their home.
“If they test positive using a Lateral Flow Device they should isolate and arrange a follow-up PCR test.
“If they test negative, they should still keep sticking to the FACTS guidance, to keep themselves and those around them as safe as possible.”