Sturgeon admits concern at failure to reach thousands with coronavirus but insists system is robust

Nicola Sturgeon has said it is a concern that coronavirus tracers were unable to contact more than 3,500 Scots who tested positive for the disease.

The First Minister said the failure was not down to the Test and Protect contact tracing system, which she said is performing to an “exceptionally good” standard.

Instead, she said the issue was people not answering phone calls or responding to text messages from contact tracers.

She stressed there is a “personal responsibility” to do this.

But Ms Sturgeon faced calls to “get a grip” on Test and Protect after figures showed since June 22 a total of 3,512 individuals with a positive test were unable to be contacted.

Public Health Scotland said this was 6% of those who had tested positive, describing it as a “very small proportion” of the overall number of cases.

It has also emerged a “coding error” was responsible for overestimating the number of people contacted within 24 hours of testing positive for the virus.

Both Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard challenged Ms Sturgeon on this at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.

Mr Leonard said: “The most recent reports from Public Health Scotland show that there have been thousands, 3,500 people to be precise, who have tested positive but have not been interviewed by Test and Protect, 400 in the past week alone.

“Is the First Minister seriously telling Scotland that this shows Test and Protect is working well?

“Isn’t it showing it is desperately short of resources and that the Government needs to get a grip?”

Speaking about confirmed Covid-19 cases who had not been spoken to, Ms Sturgeon accepted “of course that is a concern”.

But she added: “But it is simply and factually wrong to describe that as a failure of Test and Protect of somehow down to a lack of resources.

“Those are people who despite the best efforts of Test and Protect don’t answer their phones and don’t reply to the text messages.

“Now all of us have a personal responsibility, you cannot blame Test and Protect if people are not answering their phone to Test and Protect.”

The First Minister said the latest figures show the service had contact traced 95.8% of Covid-19 cases within 72 hours – exceeding the World Health Organisation standard of 80%.

“Test and Protect is working well, it is doing a good job and I think it is a disservice to those working in that system to suggest otherwise,” Ms Sturgeon said.

Ms Davidson argued: “I think it’s wrong for the First Minister not to acknowledge that for eight consecutive weeks at the start of the Covid second wave we were not meeting those targets.

“And we didn’t know we were missing them because of this data error.”

The Scottish Conservative leader also asked about the use of text messages by the Test and Protect team to reach close contacts of people confirmed as having coronavirus.

Ms Sturgeon said a “mix of SMS text messages and telephone calls” are used for this work.

She added: “Sometimes SMS messages are used for speed of contact but around 40% of close contacts are actually telephoned.”

The First Minister told MSPs the proportion of people contacted by phone rather than text is expected to increase, adding ministers will “seek to improve the system”.

She said: “It doesn’t do anybody any service – and by anybody I don’t mean the government I mean the people of Scotland – to suggest anything other than Test and Protect is working well and people should have confidence in it.”

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