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FM will consider publishing number of tests carried out in Orkney

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has promised, today, Thursday, to “look at” the idea of publishing the number of coronavirus tests that have been undertaken in each health board area.

This came after Orkney MSP Liam McArthur pressed the issue during a parliamentary session, in the interests of transparency and building public confidence in the decisions being made as restrictions start to be eased.

Mr McArthur reminded parliament that localised detail is already available in relation to confirmed COVID cases and COVID related deaths, but that no comparable figures for testing are publicly available. The number recorded test-positive cases in the county to date is 7, but no figure is available for the amount of tests undertaken.

The Orcadian has repeatedly appealed for further data relating to the management and spread of coronavirus in Orkney to be published, in order to give the public a better gauge of how it is impacting the county. Though patient confidentiality has previously been cited as the reason for not making this information public, NHS Orkney’s chief executive designate Iain Stewart told the newspaper this week that “hundreds” of tests had been undertaken in the county, and that he would be “happy” to give a more exact figure if the Scottish Government would allow that.

In response, the First Minister said: “Yes, I will be happy to look at how we do that. I think it will be important to do that. I’m not going to give a straightforward commitment because I’m going to need to go and discuss the practicalities of that but I think in principal, yes.”

Following the exchange, Mr McArthur said: “Moving on from lockdown will be enormously difficult, not least as the advice to the public will become less black and white.  It is all the more important, therefore, that we have as much transparency as possible so people can understand the basis for the decisions being taken.

“At the moment, the government publishes figures for the number of COVID-related deaths, and the number of confirmed cases.  In the absence of widespread testing, there are already question marks over how accurately these figures reflect the state of play on the ground.  That situation is not helped, however, when we have no idea how many tests are being carried out at a local level.

“The expansion of testing and contact tracing is welcome, if overdue. However, in order to build public confidence and ensure any issues are identified early on, the government needs to be as transparent as possible.

“I am pleased that the First Minister recognised that in her response to me earlier today, and look forward to more details about testing activity being made available, at a localised level. That would be an important step in the right direction as we continue to tackle this virus.”