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Breakdown in communication left people in the dark over Thurso testing unit, says MP

By Gordon Calder

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PEOPLE in the Thurso area were left in the dark by the Scottish Government about the arrival of a mobile testing unit in the town, north MP Jamie Stone has said.

He accused ministers of wasting an opportunity to get the public tested for coronavirus at the facility which was set up in Millbank Road by the army.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross claimed there had been no advance warning about the arrival of the unit, which is being used to test essential workers – other than NHS staff – and people over 65 who have Covid-19 symptoms. Health workers can get tested at Caithness General Hospital in Wick.

Mr Stone expressed his concerns in a letter to Scotland's health secretary Jeane Freeman, claiming the army mobile testing unit appeared "seemingly out of nowhere" on Monday, May 4. It has been on the site for about three days each of the weeks it has been there.

Mr Stone stated: "As I understand it this facility was specifically put in place to offer tests to people at risk of infection such as bus drivers, posties and supermarket workers who would not ordinarily be eligible for the testing being given to NHS and care workers. I and many of my constituents were mystified by the complete lack of public information associated with the army setting up their facility in Thurso.

Mobile testing units are being run by army personnel at 13 sites across Scotland. This photo was taken at Elgin. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Mobile testing units are being run by army personnel at 13 sites across Scotland. This photo was taken at Elgin. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

"While very welcome, it appeared like a mushroom in the night. Neither local NHS services in Caithness nor indeed the wider NHS Highland had any prior warning of the facility being set up in Thurso. The health professionals were as surprised as the rest of us. And we were all even more surprised when the facility was speedily removed the following Thursday.

"The fact that health workers and managers in the Highlands were not forewarned of the army’s appearance means that in all likelihood the facility in Thurso was not used nearly as effectively as it might have been."

Mr Stone asked Ms Freeman why the information about the unit was not shared with health workers and managers in Caithness. "The question is highly important because the defeat of Covid-19 absolutely relies on co-ordinated working by all involved," he wrote.

"An issue of the best use of public finances arises from this incident. If testing facilities are not used to their full potential, then public money is being wasted."

Mr Stone said later: "Co-ordination is crucial to protecting people in the far north from the pandemic. There has clearly been a breakdown in communication and a waste of precious resources.

"To leave Thurso's local residents and doctors in the dark about an opportunity to get tested for coronavirus is a lost opportunity to keep people safe. I await the Scottish Government's justification for this breakdown in communication."

Highland councillor Struan Mackie has written to the health secretary on the local mobile testing unit. He said it was "totally unacceptable" there was no prior notice about the facility.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “All those who experiencing symptoms who sign up for a test will be directed to their nearest testing unit, including the mobile units.

“We are working with local authorities and health boards to ensure that the location of these units is publicised locally where possible, and we are also now running a targeted digital advertising campaign in the areas around the mobile testing units, encouraging those with symptoms to sign up to be tested.”

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