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Scrapping testing would be ‘inexcusable negligence’, says Sturgeon

The First Minister said a further plan on testing and contact tracing will be published next month.

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The First Minister said Scotland would ‘retain a robust testing system’ (Jane Barlow/PA)

The First Minister said Scotland would ‘retain a robust testing system’ (Jane Barlow/PA)

The First Minister said Scotland would ‘retain a robust testing system’ (Jane Barlow/PA)

Scotland’s First Minister has said scrapping Covid-19 testing capacity would be “inexcusable negligence”.

As she announced to MSPs in Holyrood that all legal restrictions in response to Covid-19 could end on March 21 if the downward trajectory of the virus continues, the First Minister said Scotland would “retain a robust testing system” over the coming months.

The system, Ms Sturgeon said, would move away from mass testing of those without symptoms to a more targeted approach which will be laid out next month.

The Prime Minister announced this week there would be an end to free testing in England, but did not go into detail about the future of testing infrastructure, meaning the funding arrangements for the devolved administrations to continue their own testing regimes were uncertain.

The First Minister pledged to continue free testing, saying in her statement: “We consider it important – in line with the principle of healthcare free at the point of use – that they should remain free of charge for any circumstance in which government recommends testing.”

Asked by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross why she was “creating a fight” with the UK Government over testing, Ms Sturgeon said: “I’ve had many discussions with UK Government representatives in the past days on this issue and we all agree that, I think, in time we should move to a more targeted system of testing.

“The difference between the Scottish Government and the UK Government is that we should do that in a careful, phased basis and that we should give great care and thought to the testing infrastructure built up in the past two years that we retain for the future.

“To dismantle that in any significant way, I think, would be inexcusable negligence given the threats that Covid still presents to us.”

Public health decisions are devolved, but decisions that determine how much resource is available ... flow only from public health decisions that are taken for England by the UK GovernmentNicola Sturgeon

The First Minister said it was “deeply regrettable” there had been no clarity on the long-term funding for testing, but added that the Scottish Government would “continue to work with” the UK Government on the matter.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie urged the First Minister to commit to the ongoing funding of testing as well as contact tracing “to protect the people of Scotland”.

The First Minister said she was under the impression that the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday would set out more detail on testing, but the lack of clarity “has a knock-on effect on Scottish Government decision making”.

“I hope they get their act together and I hope they get their act together quickly,” she added.

“Jackie Baillie is right to point to the fact that public health responsibilities are devolved, because that takes us to the very heart of the issue.

“Public health decisions are devolved, but decisions that determine how much resource is available to Scotland, to Wales and to Northern Ireland, flow only from public health decisions that are taken for England by the UK Government.

“That’s a system I don’t defend because I think it is unacceptable and unsustainable, but it’s a system that Jackie Baillie and her party unfortunately and regrettably do defend.”

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