A PETITION has been handed to Shetland Islands Council calling on public and private organisations to come together to look into technology that would enable a faster turnaround of Covid-19 tests in case of a second outbreak.
The petition has over 20 signatures, from individuals as well as people representing businesses, and it is expected to go in front of councillors on Thursday.
The signatories are worried that under the national government test and protect scheme tests may not be turned around fast enough.
The scheme encourages people over the age of five with symptoms to request a test before swab samples are taken.
The swabs should be sent to Glasgow – which naturally involves transport time – but NHS Shetland confirmed that due to available capacity most samples so far have been dealt with locally through the health board’s on-island processing machine.
Public health consultant Dr Susan Laidlaw said, however, that as more people are tested ahead of coming into hospital as health services resume, there will be a point where all requests from the general public are routed through the government scheme via the Lighthouse laboratory in Glasgow.
The on-island machine is not used for general community testing and is usually prioritised for checking people such as those about to have an operation, NHS staff and folk in higher risk settings.
The petitioners say all tests in Shetland should ideally have a turnaround of 24 hours or less.
“While Shetland should be in a position to remain an open county both to visitors and to those travelling for business purposes, this can only be safely achieved provided pragmatic measures are instigated to safeguard the community from a potential resurgence of positive cases, which may occur as travel restrictions are eased,” the petition says.
“It must be acknowledged that further threats will remain to the fore until such time as an effective vaccine has been developed and administered to the isles’ population: realistically, this is unlikely to be achieved for some time to come, although valiant efforts are underway.”
It calls for an enhanced local testing capacity and says there is an “urgency” for public and private organisations to investigate options for turning about tests faster in Shetland.
“Time is crucial in the fight against Covid-19, as well as preparing for future unknowns: pre-emptive action and advance preparation present the best strategy,” it added.
The petitioners also say that waiting on test results could result in businesses and organisations having to close down while the person is in self-isolation.
Laidlaw said that nearly all of the people who have requested a test through the government scheme have been analysed locally because there has been the capacity to do so.
“There have also been a small number of people who were unable to access the pod in Lerwick and so they have done a home swab and this has been sent to the Lighthouse lab,” she added.
“The results from the Lighthouse lab are usually received within 36-48 hours of the swab being taken.
“All the samples for the weekly screening testing of care home staff (who are well, with no symptoms) go to the Lighthouse lab in Glasgow and the results for these are within 48 hours also.
“However, as the use of the NHS lab [in Shetland] increases to test people coming into hospital, then there will come a point where all requests from the general public are routed through the UK Government scheme routinely.
“However, any higher risk individuals, or people in high risk settings would still be swabbed locally and have their tests analysed locally, giving a result usually the same day.”
When asked if the on-island NHS machine could be used for the test and protect scheme if there was another outbreak, Laidlaw said:
“The NHS testing route has always been used to date for testing people suspected of Covid-19 who are higher risk or in higher risk settings and for any outbreaks.
“The government scheme provides increased capacity to enable us to include all other individuals although, locally, so far we have only had to use the government scheme on a small number of occasions where the individual could not get to the pod in Lerwick.
“In the event of an outbreak in the future we would use NHS pathways as far as possible, which include the local lab and the Aberdeen lab if necessary.
“Samples would be prioritised so that those required most quickly, in order to manage the outbreak, would be done locally.
“However, the larger capacity of the UK Government scheme would also be used if required for a large outbreak. Usually, in an outbreak situation, it is only people with the relevant symptoms who are tested, except currently in care homes where everyone would be tested.”
Shetland Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison, meanwhile, will update councillors at the same meeting on Thursday on the local authority’s response to the pandemic.
A report says that a community impact assessment will be carried out, but it will need to be a “process that continues for a long period as the health, economic and social harms will be felt for 15-20 years”.
It added: “People are at the heart of our community so they must also be at the heart of our renewal.
“The physical, mental and social wellbeing of individuals and the community has been detrimentally impacted by lockdown. The pandemic and the response to manage transmission has widened inequalities and created further disadvantage, poverty and hardship.
“A local employability partnership has been developed to coordinate resources in the recovery/renewal phases around employability support, skills development and to understand what gaps there may be in current service provision to respond to the needs of individuals and families in our changing economy.”
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