SCOTLAND’S Test and Protect system has moved back within World Health Organisation (WHO) standards – but fears have been raised that fewer contacts are now being traced.
The latest figures, published by Public Health Scotland, show that only 6.1% of cases took more than 72 hours to complete for the week ending July 11, compared to 41.7% of cases in the week ending July 4.
The WHO has stated at least 80% of new cases should have their contacts traced within three days of the case being confirmed.
The system fell below this standard for two weeks as infections surged in late June and early July, prompting opposition parties to claim it was in “disarray”.
Despite the improvements, revised figures show that at one point, almost half of contacts were waiting more than 48 hours to be interviewed.
Figures published last week indicated that in the week ending 4 July 37.3% of cases waited more than 48 hours between a case being logged and an individual being interviewed. The revised figure published today put this figure at 48.9%.
The Lib Dems’ Willie Rennie said: “The Scottish Government were caught off guard by rising case numbers, and Test and Protect couldn’t stand up against the tide of the third wave.
“These figures show just how unprepared the Scottish Government were. At one point almost half of contacts were left in the dark for more than 48 hours.”
He added: “The Health Secretary was forced to make last ditch attempts to recruit more staff to prop the system up. There was a failure in basic foresight, and should force questions about whether he really has a handle on this virus. Predictable problems shouldn’t be causing so much panic. “We’re by no means out of the woods yet, and lives and livelihoods are still at risk. The vaccine rollout still has some way to go, and in the meantime safety nets like self-isolation and Test and Protect need to be working at maximum efficiency.”
Despite the recent improvement in turnaround times, the average number of primary contacts identified per case has fallen during Scotland’s recent spike in infections.
It went from six contacts per case at the end of May to just three in the week ending July 4.
Provisional data for the week ending July 11 shows only two contacts per case were identified.
Under the pressure brought on by a surge in positive cases in recent weeks, telephone follow-up calls are not taking place to those needing to isolate as a result of international travel, with text messages being issued instead.
Last week, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said an extra 100 staff had been brought in to help Test and Protect deal with the increased demand.
At the weekend, Mr Yousaf denied claims the contact tracing script had been altered in order to meet the WHO target.
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie accused the Government of “corner-cutting” to improve the turnaround times.
She said: “Make no mistake, Test and Protect is in disarray.
“It is obvious that the corner-cutting that the Government has instructed Test and Protect to follow has led to substantially fewer contacts being reached.
“The Government is playing fast and loose with the safety of the people of Scotland.
“It’s high time that the SNP stop the spin and bluster and get to grips with dealing with this pandemic.”
Yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon stressed that “Test and Protect is always going to be under pressure when cases are rising”.
She added: “We are making additional resources available as appropriate, and additional staff are being employed to support the test and protect operation.
“We believe that, because of that approach, some of the pressure that we have seen in the past week or so is abating.
“As we go through the pandemic, just as we are changing the approach to self-isolation, changes are being made to ensure that the approach to contact tracing is effective, proportionate and notifies people as quickly as possible. That is the work that test and protect has been doing and will continue to do, because it remains a vital part of our protection.”