Covid Lothian: MSP calls for money to be switched from Test and Protect to nurses

Lothian Tory MSP Sue Webber has called on the Scottish Government to wind up the Test and Protect system and invest the money in new nurses.

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She says the £211 million spent so far in 2021/22 on Test and Protect could deliver more than 8,000 extra nurses across Scotland, including 1,208 in Lothian.

Scottish Conservatives have called for a move away from mass testing towards representative sampling, which would they say would allow a dramatic reduction in the funding allocated to monitor Covid.

Sue Webber says Test and Protect is becoming redundant.

Ms Webber said Test and Protect was a valuable resource during the early stages of the pandemic but had now become increasingly redundant. She said figures showed that during the peak of the Omicron wave, 60 per cent of positive cases in Scotland were not contacted within 72 hours. Likewise, removing the need to take a confirmatory PCR test would further diminish the usefulness of Test and Protect as typically just one in five lateral flow test results are registered with the system.

Ms Webber said: “As we continue to see positive data surrounding Covid, we need to see a more targeted approach to the virus from the SNP Government.

“Part of the approach should be replacing Test and Protect. It was vital during many stages of the Covid crisis in helping to trace cases in the Lothian region, but is now not serving its purpose.

“These figures are stark and show how money could be diverted towards hiring many new nurses in NHS Lothian, if over £200m wasn’t being spent on Test and Protect.

“Frontline services in NHS Lothian are in desperate need of extra money and support. A&E waiting times are being missed every week, the treatment backlog is ever growing and heroic staff are absolutely exhausted.

“As we look beyond the pandemic, we need to see the SNP adapt to the new situation and investing in 1208 new nurses in NHS Lothian would be an ideal way to do so.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said decisions will have to be taken about Test and Protect for the longer term, but right now contact tracing is a key way to keep infection under control and give additional assurance to the most vulnerable.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "Test and Protect continues to deliver an effective public health function despite record numbers of cases.

"As case numbers have risen, more people are being contact traced through digital channels – contact tracing resource continues to be targeted to best protect public health including ensuring our objectives of protecting the vulnerable and targeting high risk settings.

“We are thankful to the large numbers of people who engage with digital contact tracing when asked – and ask all people who receive a digital contact tracing form or a phone call to respond as soon as possible to help identify their contacts and reduce transmission.

“The First Minister has made clear that later this month the Scottish Government will publish an updated Strategic Framework, that will set out in greater detail our approach to managing Covid more sustainably in the coming phases of the pandemic.”

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