AN increase in Scotland’s coronavirus testing capacity will allow for an expansion of testing into asymptomatic groups to further protect the most vulnerable, the Health Secretary has said.

Speaking at today’s live briefing, Jeane Freeman said Scotland was “on track” to increase its testing capacity by around 22,000 thanks to the opening of three new testing hubs.

These extra tests mean the country should have an overall testing capacity of 65,000 tests per day by winter.

The Health Secretary said this extra capacity would allow for the routine testing of groups such as care home staff and visitors, and NHS staff.

She said: “The unanimous view of clinical and scientific advisors is that the overriding priorities for testing capacity in Scotland are ensuring all people with symptoms can access testing, and testing for clinical care.

“Their advice is clear. As testing capacity increases, routine asymptomatic testing should be expanded to protect those most vulnerable to harm from the virus, including residents in care homes.

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“Using the clear advice from our clinical and scientific advisers, we’re working through how we can extend asymptomatic testing to other groups, remembering the focus is on protecting the most vulnerable.

“That therefore includes staff delivering care at home, care home visitors, NHS and other professional staff who go in on an infrequent basis to care homes, and NHS staff, particularly in critical, patient-facing areas.”

The Health Secretary said that the new hubs, due to open in November and December, were a part of an ongoing transition away from the UK Lighthouse laboratory testing network.

She said that, while the average test turnaround time from NHS Scotland is 27 hours, those from the UK Lighthouse labs can “fluctuate”.

Freeman added: “The hubs will be used to complete the transition, which we’ve already begun, of care home staff testing, away from the UK Lighthouse network, thereby freeing up capacity there for other testing use.

“The hubs will also provide additional capacity and resilience to our health boards throughout the winter period and beyond.”

The testing capacity increase and expansion into asymptomatic groups should put Scotland in “the best position possible” to respond to the “significant” challenges caused as the problems created by Covid are exacerbated by the usual winter pressures, Freeman said.

She added that an “NHS Winter Preparedness Plan” is to be published on Wednesday of this week. It will set out the importance of vaccination programmes, and how the Government plans to maintain normal NHS services over the coming months.

Freeman also thanked Scots for their “unstinting support and perseverance” which, she said, meant the NHS has not been overwhelmed.