Alison Johnstone MSP asked Nicola Sturgeon if she was waiting for instructions from Boris Johnston.
By Democrat reporter
Some digs are hard to take in politics, but this must have been a sore one for FM Nicola Sturgeon to have to cope with.
Especially painful since it came from an unexpected source – the Green Party’s joint leader, Alison Johnstone.
The subject under discussion was infection prevention and control methods, one of which is routinely screening health professionals working in hospitals for other diseases.
Ms Johnstone said: “There seems to be a worrying lack of urgency, however, in testing for this potentially life-threatening disease.
“Does the First Minister have advice that the science, which supports regular testing in care homes, is not relevant to our hospitals? The testing capacity is already in place to do it.”
Then came the stinger. She asked: “Is the First Minister waiting until the UK Government advises her to do it?”
Ms Sturgeon was visibly pained at the suggestion that she should be in lockstep with Boris Johnston’ government on anything – and certainly not the vexatious issue of testing.
She replied: “I am not sure whether I followed the thread of that question; I was not sure whether Alison Johnstone was criticising us for following advice that comes from SAGE.
“We take advice from SAGE, and our advisory group feeds into SAGE and gives us advice.
“As I have said on several occasions today, the nosocomial review group is looking at the issues that are associated with hospital-acquired infection. We follow all that clinical advice.
“Alison Johnstone said that we have resisted the principle of testing asymptomatic people. It is not about a principle; it is about practical efficacy and effectiveness.
“Even today, experts continue to say that the test is less reliable in people who do not have symptoms.
“Therefore, all along, my concern has been that, if we focus all our efforts on testing—even though, in some cases, it gives false reassurance—then we take our eye off the ball of the other, more important things that need to be done to minimise the risk of transmission, particularly in institutional settings such as hospitals and care homes.
“We take a range of scientific and expert advice; I am not sure that anybody should criticise us for doing that. At times, waiting for that advice means that we do not rush to make announcements that prove not to have been the right announcements.
“We take time to make sure that the work is done properly, because it needs to be done for the right reasons and on a sustainable basis. The Scottish Government will continue to take that careful approach to all aspects of handling the virus.”
Ms Johnstone had said earlier: “For some time, the Scottish Government has resisted the principle of testing individuals without symptoms, arguing that the test itself only works in a window of symptomatic people.
“During the past month, however, testing has been expanded, which I warmly welcome. Most critically, regular testing of care workers has begun—in theory, at least.
“It emerged this morning that the only reason regular testing was introduced was that the United Kingdom Government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies—SAGE—recommended it.
“Although it began discussing the issue in early May, the Scottish Government’s scientific advisory group has not yet delivered advice and we are told that the advice is still weeks away.”