Ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown leads calls for more care home Covid-19 tests

19 May 2020, 06:12

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is leading the calls for increased testing
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is leading the calls for increased testing. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is leading calls for more coronavirus testing in care homes after a 'shocking' report into the number of tests carried out.

The ex-PM said he was "shocked" at survey results which showed out of a total of 700 residents and 100 staff found just 56 per cent of those staying there and 43 per cent of workers had been tested for coronavirus.

Mr Brown is now leading demands for the Scottish and UK Governments to hold a virtual summit to lay out joint plans to help track and test the disease in facilities.

He's signed a letter to the Scottish Government from a number of groups that says "insufficient co-operation" between ministers in Edinburgh and London is harming efforts to combat Covid-19.

Read more: Temporary workers 'were spreading coronavirus between care homes', reports

The plea is being backed by trade unions including the GMB, Unison, Unite and Usdaw, as well as the Royal College of Nursing and a number of care home employers.

In a letter to the Scottish Government, they claim "insufficient co-operation" between ministers in Edinburgh and London is harming efforts to tackle Covid-19.

"If Scotland is to be able to move out of lockdown safely, we need to test many, many more people," the letter, which has also been sent to the UK Government, states.

"We need both Governments in Scotland - Scottish and UK - to work together to increase testing capacity hugely and give first priority to testing key workers - who are most at risk and most at risk of spreading the virus - routinely."

Read more: Anyone aged five or older can now get a Covid-19 test if they display symptoms

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They made the plea as the think tank Our Scottish Future published a new report calling for a "radical acceleration of coronavirus testing".

Those who signed the letter have demanded routine coronavirus testing for care workers, NHS workers and all front-line workers who are unable to practise social distancing at work.

Mr Brown said: "If there was a vaccine we would tell everyone to 'get vaccinated'.

"Given that in the absence of a vaccine, testing, tracing and isolating is our policy, we should be able to say 'get tested'.

"But three months into the disease, only 2.5% of Scots have been tested and even today we are testing at a rate 30% lower than the rest of the UK, even when Scottish ministers are having to admit that rates of infection have been higher than the rest of the UK."

On Monday, Scotland's Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced testing is to be made available to all care staff, regardless of whether a case has been reported at the home in which they work or if they have symptoms.

But Mr Brown said that is "still not good enough".

He added: "At around 5,000 tests a day, we are running at less than half what even the Scottish Government has stated are needed."

Professor Jim Gallagher, of Our Scottish Future, said: "Scotland will only get ahead of Covid-19 if the Scottish and UK Governments work hand in hand, sharing expertise, information and resources.

"They should be applauded for where they have done so during this crisis. Now we need to see a great deal more."

He argued: "Something's wrong in the way the testing system has been set up.

"It must be better co-ordinated and deliver many more tests.

"That's why unions and care home workers are now calling on both Governments to get together to agree and publish how they intend to work together to deliver a workable test, trace and isolate plan - we now need both to step up to the plate."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "It is incorrect and potentially misleading to try to compare Scottish testing figures to UK-wide figures in the way being suggested.

"In Scotland, testing is carried out both by NHS Scotland and as part of the UK Government's drive-through and mobile testing facilities.

"Figures recently presented for Scotland, however, only include those tests done in NHS labs.

"Instead, the figure for the UK will include those drive-through and mobile tests done in Scotland - the two are simply not comparable.

"We have rapidly ramped up testing capacity in Scotland, and today announced that everyone over the age of five with symptoms is eligible to be tested."

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