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Where have the contact tracing reinforcements gone?

October 18, 2020 12:00 AM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has today raised questions about contact tracing reinforcements after another week of delays.

Speaking on Good Morning Scotland this week, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said there were around 800 active contact tracers working in Scotland and that the government is "aiming for around a 1000 over the coming period".

However, speaking on Debate Night on 23rd September, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes said: "We do have access to 2000 tracers, which was the commitment made, so the point that's being made that there aren't 2000 tracers is inaccurate, we can double within 48 hours the number of tracers. So there are sufficient contact tracers."

Figures released by the Liberal Democrats show that 567 people last week alone waited 48 hours to be contacted by Test and Protect. Willie Rennie raised it with the First Minister in Parliament this week but she was unable to explain why they were waiting for so long.

Willie Rennie commented:

"Ministers reassured the public they could expand contact tracer capacity at the snap of their fingers and have double the number of staff in place in 48 hours. They told us they had access to 2,000 tracers.

"Weeks later we have new backlogs and the Health Secretary is scrabbling to get more staff. What is going on?

"Last week alone government tracers failed to interview 567 people who had tested positive within 48 hours of Test and Protect logging their case. That's up 1400% on a month ago.

"If this was a fully functioning system as ministers claim then people wouldn't be waiting on tracers calling about their contacts and whereabouts, and certainly not for more than three days. These dangerous delays show the system wasn't ready to be ramped up like we were told.

"There were already serious questions about why the supposed full complement of 2,000 contact tracers wasn't deployed over the summer, given the target to spotcheck 20% of those quarantining was missed for almost four months. We know the failings of that system contributed to the spread of the virus.

"As we head into a dangerous second wave of this virus people are right to ask why this system wasn't strengthened sooner. Ministers wasted the time given to them over summer through the public's efforts. They must remedy this quickly and ensure the Test and Protect system has the staff it needs to respond to demand and now interview people within hours, not days."