The Scottish Government has been urged to ramp up testing of care home visitors to protect those most at risk.
A review of the testing strategy published by the Scottish Government on Friday said the country is “on track” to hit 65,000 tests per day during the winter, thanks to the opening of three regional hubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, as well as an increase in UK Government-run testing.
The document, written by interim chief medical officer Gregor Smith, national clinical director Jason Leitch, chief nursing officer Fiona McQueen and chief scientists, also laid out what they believe should be the priorities of Scotland’s testing system as winter approaches.
The advisers said protecting those most at risk from serious harm from the virus should be one of the main priorities, along with the screening of those with symptoms and in hospital.
The document said: “Given this evidence, the consensus view of clinical and scientific advisers is that prioritising additional testing capacity to protect those most vulnerable to severe harm should focus on additional routine testing to mitigate the risk of asymptomatic transmission within care homes.
“This could include extending routine testing to visiting staff in care homes, stratified by risk – focusing first, for example, on those delivering close contact personal care to care home residents – to designated care home visitors, and to staff who provide care at home for those most vulnerable to harm.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said last week she would be open to the routine testing of care home visitors.
She said: “People going in and out of care homes is clearly one such group that we would look to consider for testing in the future.”
The strategy also calls for work to be done to improve the time taken for results to be received by those tested.
Ms McQueen said: “NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect system is performing well, even with rising cases, and the country is on track to expand overall testing capacity to 65,000 tests per day by winter.
“However, while the full extent of the pandemic in Scotland over the winter months is currently unknown, it is crucial that there is a greater focus on reducing test turnaround times so that we can further reduce transmission by enabling timely contact tracing and isolation of close contacts. Initiatives such as the additional NHS Scotland regional labs will go some way towards this.
“It is also vital that additional testing capacity is used to protect the most vulnerable, this includes prioritising additional routine testing to reduce the risk of asymptomatic transmission within care homes.
“This could include extending routine testing to visiting care home staff, and designated care home visitors as well as to those who provide care at home services.
“We are also recommending the expansion of testing healthcare workers, with a focus on those caring for high risk patient groups and potentially in areas where there is higher community prevalence.”
But Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “It is absolutely vital, if we’re going to get on top of this virus, that we increase testing capacity and meet the 65,000 daily target.
“I visited the Lighthouse Lab last week to see the incredible, heroic efforts going on there to keep people in Scotland safe.
“A facility that didn’t exist seven months ago is delivering tens of thousands of Covid tests a day.
“Both of Scotland’s governments are working together to meet testing demand and, as this review states, the UK Government are delivering two-thirds of testing in Scotland.
“As experts have set out this morning, we now need the SNP Government to make sure they increase their side of testing capacity to meet this key target.”
Peter Hunter, Unison regional manager, also said: “It is clear that homecare workers face a massive infection risk.
“They work in multiple domestic settings that are a known risk factor and they travel from house to house.
“For vulnerable service users, workers and the families this is a vital breakthrough that reflects Unison’s call for testing.
“It will be a vital tool in saving lives and maintaining vital frontline services for the most vulnerable people in Scotland.”