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Coronavirus / No system in place yet to test everyone with Covid-19 symptoms

IT WILL take until at least next week for NHS Shetland to be able to provide Covid-19 tests for everyone over the age of five with symptoms as announced by the UK Government earlier this week.

Discussions are still ongoing between the local health board and NHS Scotland as to how best to overcome a number of logistical challenges.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday health secretary Matt Hancock said his announcement applied for all four nations that make up the United Kingdom.

The commitment was made after testing capacity and laboratory space across the UK was increased.

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson. Photo: Shetland News

The service is however not yet available in Shetland, but the local health board said it is keen to have it up and running as soon as possible.

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson said on Friday: “We are working hard with national organisations [NHS Scotland, the Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland] to put in place a service that will work on the islands.

“This is logistically very challenging, mainly because of the difficulty of getting swabs off island down to the Glasgow Lighthouse Laboratory within the required time limit.

“There are many factors affecting this, including reduced transport services and technical limitations with the swabs themselves.”

Dickson said he wanted reassure local people that he and his team were working towards enabling the expansion of testing for a much wider proportion of the population should they have Covid-19 symptoms.

NHS Shetland took delivery of a Covid testing facility in April. Photo: NHS Shetland

And although the health board has it own small lab facility for Covid-19 swabs, those taken as part of the new programme will be sent to Glasgow for analysing.

“Whilst we have the ability to analyse some swabs in the laboratory at the Gilbert Bain Hospital, this facility is still focussed on people who are in the hospital or care home setting, have a particular clinical need for testing or are key workers,” Dickson said.

“Our local testing arrangements also have to be balanced with other laboratory test functions needed on island to support health and care delivery.

“We will update the public early next week as to our progress in getting the expanded testing scheme up and running in Shetland. Please be assured this is a key priority for NHS Shetland.”

Meanwhile, Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has secured a commitment from first minister Nicola Sturgeon to look in publishing the number of Covid-19 tests being carried out in each local health board area.

Speaking remotely in parliament on Thursday McArthur said that localised detail was already available in relation to confirmed Covid-19 cases and Covid-19 related deaths, but that no comparable figures for testing are publicly available.

Sturgeon said: “Yes I will be happy to look at how we do that. I think it will be important to do that. I’m not going to give a straightforward commitment because I’m going to need to go and discuss the practicalities of that but I think in principal yes.”

McArthur commented: “At the moment, the government publishes figures for the number of Covid-related deaths, and the number of confirmed cases.

“In the absence of widespread testing, there are already question marks over how accurately these figures reflect the state of play on the ground. That situation is not helped, however, when we have no idea how many tests are being carried out at a local level.”

Despite having been asked several times over recent months, NHS Shetland has so far not released any accurate up-to-date figure.

In April, the health board said more than 200 local people had been tested, while following a number of Covid-19 related deaths in the Wastview care home a further 242 were tested.