In response to the Scottish Government’s announcement that all care home workers are now eligible for a coronavirus test, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (the “College”) said that testing must be done “routinely, on a mass scale” – and will only be effective if results are received within 24 hours.

An expert panel created by the College – made of top specialists in infectious diseases, epidemiology and public health – added that all health and social care staff must be the top priority for rapid, mass and routine coronavirus testing.

This should include both hospital and social care staff.

The panel said that healthcare staff are more exposed to people at high risk of severe complications from coronavirus.

The danger of them both acquiring the infection and passing it on to their patients is significant, the panel said.

They raised concerns that the number of people who are COVID-19 positive, without showing symptoms, is much higher than originally thought – as research in the Lancet shows.

By ensuring that all healthcare staff are routinely tested for coronavirus, positive cases can be tracked, traced and isolated to prevent the spread of coronavirus in hospitals and care homes and shield the most vulnerable to virus.

If used well, testing can identify the coronavirus in the first 24-48 hours, when most people are unlikely to display symptoms – but healthcare staff must receive their test results within 24 hours of being tested for this to work effectively.

Responding to a Scottish Parliament call for views on testing, the panel welcomed the increase in coronavirus testing capacity in Scotland, but raised concerns that testing is being treated as a strategy in itself.

Testing strategies should be evidence based where at all possible, and should always include consideration of informed consent.

Dr Susan Pound, Vice President for Scotland, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said:

What we want to see is an effective testing strategy to slow the spread of coronavirus, and that begins with testing healthcare workers – including hospital consultants and care home staff. It is good that testing capacity it improving in Scotland – and across the UK – but a headline count of the number of tests per day is almost meaningless in managing the coronavirus, and what matters most is the strategy that testing helps to deliver.

Effective shielding of the most vulnerable people would require 100,000’s of daily tests for healthcare workers, care home workers and carers. In order to be effective, testing of these key workers must be done routinely, on a mass scale – and it must be done rapidly. Research shows many people do not show symptoms of coronavirus in the first 24-48 hours, so testing will only be effective if results are received within 24 hours.