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Coronavirus / Petition on quicker Covid-19 testing turnaround to be passed to NHS

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson says health board ‘acknowledges and accepts the concerns’ over by some over faster turnaround

A PETITION handed to Shetland Islands Council (SIC) calling on public and private organisations to come together to look into technology that would enable a faster turnaround of Covid-19 tests is set to be referred to NHS Shetland.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison said at a meeting of the full council on Thursday that the matter of testing was was not under the local authority’s remit.

The petition gained over 20 signatures, from individuals as well as people representing businesses, with worries that under the national government 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 previously 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 said.

Sandison did say that she had been at a meeting last week on the test and protect scheme where the Scottish Government said it was developing mobile test units which could travel to “hotspots” and deliver a result in 20 to 35 minutes.

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson. Photo: Shetland News

In a statement prepared prior to Thursday’s meeting, NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson said the health board “acknowledges and accepts the concerns of Shetland residents who would like to see greater testing capability and fast turn-around of Covid-19 tests on island”.

But he said testing capacity is a matter for the Scottish Government, which has “invested in on island capacity and facilitated the use of the Lighthouse Lab in Glasgow”.

“At the moment we have the capacity and are meeting demand for local testing,” Dickson reiterated.

“No matter where a person lives in Shetland they can rest assured we will do everything possible to ensure that no patient needing a Covid-19 test ever has to wait any longer than absolutely necessary.

“What we have seen over the last few weeks is the impact on Covid-19 when a community complies with public health messages and works together.

“Our community is being held up across the UK as an example of how this co-operation and self-discipline impacts the greater good. This is because of how we have all responded to this crisis.”

Dickson said that while Covid-19 is not beaten, “good progress has been made and we can all keep ourselves safe by sticking to the guidance”.

This including washing hands with soap and water practising good cough and sneeze hygiene, keeping a distance from others, and self-isolating when feeling sick and requesting a test via NHS Shetland.

“NHS Shetland would like to offer its thanks to those who have taken the time to raise this petition,” the health chief added.

“We understand the concerns raised and we ask the public to keep working together and sticking to the rules so we come out of this in the best shape possible.”