Scottish Government officials have no record of how many people in Scotland have been contact traced for coronavirus since the pandemic began, The Courier can reveal.
Health secretary Jeane Freeman was asked to provide the figures during the government’s daily briefing on Sunday but was unable to turn over the information.
Following multiple follow-up requests, the Scottish Government failed to provide details and has now admitted the information is “not held centrally” and in “some cases” is restricted entirely because of “patient confidentiality”.
The same excuse was given for why an outbreak at a Nike conference in Edinburgh in February was not disclosed to the public and concerns have been raised over the failure to trace a number of individuals who came into contact with delegates.
Health protection teams from NHS boards were responsible for all contact tracing in Scotland but ministers have repeatedly been asked to outline how many people have been tracked down and tested in local communities.
The Scottish Government has now admitted it is unable to access the information, despite previously giving assurances appropriate steps have been taken.
Ms Freeman was accused of “treating MSPs with contempt” this week after issuing up to 30 holding answers a day to written questions about her handling of the crisis.
It means instead of the usual 10-day time limit to respond, only Nicola Sturgeon can now force the health secretary to answer within a set period – and only if she upholds an official complaint.
Since the very start of this crisis, the whole issue of testing has been a complete shambles. It’s very clear that the Scottish Government were not prepared for any significant level of testing.”
Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who received 12 holding answers in one day, logged a written question to Ms Freeman on April 23 asking how many people had been contact traced since the beginning of February.
He received a holding response from the health secretary on May 7 stating an answer would be given “as soon as possible” but Ms Freeman has still not provided an update or indicated to Parliament that the information is not held.
Mr Findlay said: “These revelations in The Courier show that ministers have no idea the numbers of people who were traced.
“It’s astonishing we can find out how many people were contact traced following a nightclub incident in Seoul, South Korea, but we can’t find out how many were traced following an outbreak at a conference in Edinburgh.”
He added: “Since the very start of this crisis, the whole issue of testing has been a complete shambles. It’s very clear that the Scottish Government were not prepared for any significant level of testing.
“Indeed, from the start, I asked questions about their ability to test and it was clear senior politicians and advisers were testing sceptics. Now they are attempting to play catch-up.”
NHS Lothian’s interim chairwoman, Esther Robertson, confirmed in a letter to Mr Findlay that 30 families had been contact traced and tested in the region by mid-March, giving an indication of how quickly the virus has been able to spread in communities.
Of the 70 international delegates at the Nike conference in late February, 25 have since tested positive – eight of them in Scotland.
At least four companies with workers who came into close contact with delegates have reported they were not told about the February outbreak, which is thought to be Scotland’s Covid-19 ‘ground zero’.
Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray accused the Scottish Government of a “catastrophic error of judgement” over its decision not to inform the public of the outbreak, which he said was contrary to public health legislation.
He said the Scottish Government’s contact tracing “clearly failed from the outset” and ministers now have a “huge task ahead” to rebuild public confidence.
“This is why the government should have made the information public at the start,” he said. “Nearly three months on, the government still can’t say how many people in Scotland have been contact traced.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Contact tracing was a key part of our early response to the Covid -19 pandemic and was handled, as would normally be the case, by NHS Board health protection teams.
“As a result, figures are not held centrally and in some cases are likely to be restricted as a result of patient confidentiality.
“However, as is the case with other Covid-19-related activity, as we take forward the implementation of the full ‘test, trace, isolate and support’ strategy, we expect relevant statistical information about contact tracing will be published as fully as possible, in keeping with the need to respect patient confidentiality.”
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