We need action on Covid testing for people with disabilities -Jeremy Balfour

It is inarguable that our way out of this pandemic relies upon a suite of efforts, including a vigorous testing regime. The ability to know whether an individual is infectious before they enter a senario with high potential of transmission is an invaluable tool in our fight to supress the virus. Lateral Flow devices allow us to do this and thankfully they are widely available for the public to have delivered or to be picked up from a pharmacy.

By Jeremy Balfour
Monday, 27th December 2021, 7:00 am
People with disabilties can struggle to administer a Latera Flow Test - or read the results
People with disabilties can struggle to administer a Latera Flow Test - or read the results

However, for many people, access to the LFTs is not the problem. By their nature as self-administered tests, it is often difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to make use of them. For example, recently at the Cross-Party Group on Disability we heard from a gentleman who is visually impaired. This means that even though he may be able to take the test, he cannot see the result. This of course is not an isolated case. Many people with a wide range of disabilities struggle with self-testing.

At First Ministers Questions in December I asked Nicola Sturgeon what advice she had for disabled people who want to take a Lateral Flow Test but are unable. To her credit, she acknowledged the importance of the question and committed to working urgently with the Health Secretary to consider it and publish an answer as soon as possible.

While her urgency was admirable, it did raise an important question. Why hadn’t this issue been considered by the Government before this point?

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Jeremy Balfor is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Lothian Region

Covid-19 has been present in the UK for coming up to two years at this point and from the outset we have been aware of the importance of testing. Yet there has been this glaring omission in the Government’s strategy. Why have they seemingly forgotten about disabled people?

It could be down to a variety of factors, but whatever the reason, it is incumbent on us to make sure that disability issues do not continue to fall through the cracks as they have in the case of testing and many others before.

I would contend that there are two politically inexpensive measures that the Scottish Government could take to ensure this. Firstly, there should be a Government Minister whose portfolio explicitly includes disability issues. Currently, it is shared between a couple of government staff and so understandably issues fall through the cracks. A single individual who takes ownership of disability would ensure that they get the attention they deserve.

The second measure that should be taken is to introduce a Commissioner for Disability. Disabled people represent around 20 per cent of people in Scotland, making them one of the largest protected groups in the country. The establishment of a Commissioner for Disability would fill this role, ensuring that disabled voices are being heard at high levels of governance in ways that it has not in years gone by.

These are very achievable measures and I hope that the Government will work to establish both. Now is not the time for looking back and blame shifting, but rather it is time to look forward and ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Jeremy Balfor is a Conservative MSP for Lothian Region