Tayside coronavirus testing trial saves 8000 working days

MORE than 8000 lost working days were prevented through the initial phase of a coronavirus testing programme the First Minister hailed as “an exemplar of testing”.

NHS Tayside became the first health authority in Scotland to begin testing in March using a drive-through centre for symptomatic health and social care staff or their household members. Those who tested negative were able to return to work, while those testing positive could self-isolate as required.

The health board and the University of Dundee published the results yesterday, which showed that in the first three weeks of the programme 1890 tests were carried out, of which 417 (22%) were positive.

With results from more than three quarters of staff or family members returning negative results, affected staff were able to return to work.

The report estimated that more 8000 lost working days were prevented through the implementation of the programme.

Scottish Government figures indicated that during the peak of the health crisis more than one in 20 NHS Scotland staff were absent from work for reasons related to Covid-19.

The results cover the first three weeks of the programme but NHS Tayside has now conducted more than 4000 tests.

Dr Benjamin Parcell, consultant in Infection Control at Ninewells Hospital and the lead author of the report, said: “The success of this programme was the result of incredibly hard and rapid work across NHS Tayside to develop the testing facility, identify and train staff and increase testing capacity at our local virology laboratory.”

NHS Tayside operational medical director, Colin Fleming, said: “All of these teams working together under extreme pressure have delivered results that NHS Tayside is rightly proud of.”

Similar programmes have now been rolled out across the country and other key workers throughout Scotland are also being tested.

The published report does not yet touch on the extent to which testing has contributed to preventing transmission, but Professor James Chalmers from the University of Dundee said: “It is clear that staff testing has had an important impact in maintaining the resilience of our health service during the Covid-19 pandemic in Scotland.

“What will be important to look at over the coming months is the extent to which rapidly introducing testing of those in the social care sector in particular will have contributed to reducing cases and deaths in Tayside.

“We have learned from other countries that every test performed allows someone to isolate and reduces transmission which translates into fewer cases and deaths.”

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