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Lack of information on Thurso mobile testing unit 'totally unacceptable'

By Gordon Calder

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Army personnel at the Covid-19 mobile testing centre in Thurso's Millbank Road on Wednesday. Picture: Robert MacDonald / Northern Studios
Army personnel at the Covid-19 mobile testing centre in Thurso's Millbank Road on Wednesday. Picture: Robert MacDonald / Northern Studios

A CAITHNESS councillor has hit out at the "totally unacceptable" lack of information on the mobile testing unit that has been operating in Thurso for the past two weeks.

Highland councillor Struan Mackie has written to Scotland's health secretary Jeane Freeman to ask why there has been so little publicity about the facility and no communication with far north health services, GP centres and local press.

Councillor Mackie is pleased the unit is in Thurso but is concerned there has been scant advance notice about its arrival.

"It is deeply disappointing that for the second time in as many weeks no publicity has been made about the deployment of the army’s mobile Covid-19 testing centre in Thurso," he said.

As we reported last week, it is one of 13 set up by the army across Scotland to test essential workers – other than NHS staff – and people over 65 who have coronavirus symptoms.

"This should have been a positive development but it has transpired that absolutely no effort has been made whatsoever to publicise these centres and ensure that health professionals are notified that testing is available locally," Councillor Mackie said.

"Key workers must be able to get tested and advance notice of the centres is the bare minimum we expect. It is totally unacceptable that the first members of the community to know about the centres were passers-by walking, exercising or going to work."

Councillor Mackie pointed out that the facility covers Caithness and parts of Sutherland.

"The unit in Thurso will be pretty much redundant if people do not know when it is here," he said. "Some people will have significant distances to travel to get tested so need to know when it is available.

"I don't expect the army to be publicising this but the health bodies and the Scottish Government.

"We have got the unit here and need to make it work. As far as I know, it is here for a few days at a time."

Local activist and former Thurso community councillor Alexander Glasgow said the unit is staffed by the army but its deployment is under civilian direction and he blamed the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland for "the failure to issue sufficient notification".

He said: "Other mobile testing facilities have been promoted, so I only can speculate why promotion was less than optimal here.

"Our nearest testing facility is 20 miles away in Wick, although as far as I know it prioritises hospital staff. Mobile testing facilities, however, can assist other key workers and those with clinical referrals who have been exhibiting symptoms.

"Yet at least a day of testing was lost last week with considerable confusion as to who was and was not entitled to a test."

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone said: "NHS Highland and far north health professionals were as surprised as everyone else when the mobile testing unit appeared in Thurso.

"This breakdown in communication and absolutely not joined-up working is simply not on. More than that, it could equal a waste of precious resources. I await an explanation from the Scottish Government.”

The unit was there on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week. It is expected to return on a rotational basis.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "The location of the units is determined by local and regional partnerships in collaboration with NHS National Services Scotland and HM Forces. NHS Highland colleagues are part of these conversations when decisions are made about the units in their area.

"Local promotion of the units is planned now that a full programme of deployment has been agreed."

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