UK Health Secretary ‘tried to restrict testing in Scotland due to backlog’

Matt Hancock wanted to restrict the number of people who could get a coronavirus test in Scotland because of a UK-wide backlog, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister said the UK's Health Secretary proposed limiting the number of slots available for testing in Scottish mobile and regional test centres.

But his Scottish counterpart Jeane Freeman "managed to avoid that happening" during negotiations over the weekend, Ms Sturgeon said.

She explained that the UK Government processes the majority of Covid-19 tests in Scotland but a UK-wide "demand issue" has been causing delays for patients waiting to receive their results.

Speaking at the Scottish Government's coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon said: "We were concerned over the weekend that one of the ways the UK Government was trying to deal with the backlog was to restrict access to testing, and the Health Secretary managed to avoid that happening in Scotland."

Ms Sturgeon said she has "serious concern" about the testing backlog and has urged Mr Hancock to share the "full scale and nature of issues they are facing" so her government could help to try and fix the problems.

She continued: "There was a proposal over the weekend that the available slots at mobile testing units and regional testing centres in Scotland would be reduced and the Health Secretary managed to avoid that happening so that we retained full capacity for Scotland.

"We have no indication at the moment that there is any significant issue in Scotland with people accessing testing slots."

Ms Sturgeon added: "The issue that we do appear to be suffering some impacts from – and again it's a UK-wide issue – is a backlog in tests being processed that is then leading to a longer turnaround time."

Ms Freeman said she had "constructive conversations" with Mr Hancock and her Welsh counterpart Vaughan Gething about the backlog, which she said was being caused by rising demand and "an issue with the speed and capacity of processing the tests".

She added: "I was pleased that we managed not to have the restrictions on access to testing slots that were originally being proposed, but this is work that we need to continue because we need to try as best we can to work cooperatively and to resolve this situation."

The concerns about test results were raised after Ms Sturgeon announced 70 new coronavirus cases north of the border in the past 24 hours, but said she believed the figures were based on incomplete data due to issues with the testing system.

The additional positive cases account for 2.7% of newly-tested individuals, down from 3.2% on Sunday.

No deaths of confirmed Covid-19 patients have been recorded in the past 24 hours and the number of fatalities under this measure remains at 2,499.

There are 264 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, up by five in 24 hours.

Of these patients, seven were in intensive care, the same as the previous day.

The First Minister also said more than 900,000 people have downloaded the Protect Scotland coronavirus contact tracing app since its launch last week.

She said it was believed this was enough for the technology to begin working, but urged those who have not to do so.

She particularly urged students who will be heading to university soon to download the app.

The UK's Department of Health has been contacted for comment.