There's been a change to Scottish Government policy over testing for coronavirus infection in care homes.

Originally, it had been felt that the available tests were too unreliable to be any help - now there will be constant testing, MSPs were told.

And Highlands & Islands MSP Rhoda Grant today (Tuesday May 19) secured an urgent meeting with a Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary in her continued bid for a Covid-19 emergency protocol for care homes.

The Highlands & Islands MSP earned the invitation after she criticised Health Secretary Jeane Freeman in the Scottish Parliament Chamber over the length of time she has taken to respond to her repeated requests for “a clear single protocol” to be drawn up to protect staff and residents from Covid-19 outbreaks.

Speaking in Chamber Rhoda said she believed lack of a protocol has been “disastrous” for care homes. Citing Home Farm Care Home in Portree on Skye where 10 residents are confirmed to have died after testing positive with Covid-19, Mrs Grant said an overwhelming level of infection was discovered when testing did eventually occur. Lack of a clear protocol has been disastrous.

And Rhoda challenged the Cabinet Secretary to disclose why it took so long to come around to the idea that testing in care homes was key to saving lives both in the homes and surrounding communities.

Rhoda said: “Since the very beginning of this crisis, Scottish Labour have repeatedly highlighted that testing in care homes is the advice of both experts in the Scotland and the World Health Organisation and other international agencies. So, can I ask the Cabinet Secretary to outline exactly what scientific advice has changed in that the government now accepts the need to carry out regular staff testing in care homes.”

It follows Jeane Freeman’s announcement yesterday that all 53,000 care home staff in Scotland would be offered routine tests in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The Health Secretary apologised to Rhoda for the delay in responding to her request for a protocol for care homes, adding “in advance of you receiving a proper response I am very happy to meet you to discuss what you think should be in an emergency protocol and to consider whether that is something that we can do to add to what’s already being done. My office will be in touch to ensure that we have that meeting as soon as possible.”

Mrs Freeman said the recent change to offer testing to staff regardless of whether there was a Covid-19 case in the care home where they work came down to a renewed understanding about the virus.

She said: “At the outset the view was if you were not symptomatic you were unlikely to be infections and the test was not reliable. That view has changed in that there is increasing evidence and debate in the scientific community about the degree to which asymptomatic and presymptomatic individuals may be infectious.

"And whilst the test is not as reliable in a-symptomatic individuals as it is in those with symptoms the advice has changed.

"It now says that given there is a growing debate about the level of infectiousness of individuals who are a-symptomatic or pre-symptomatic, the use of the test in contained areas like a care home for preventative purposes, bearing in mind, you have to keep repeating it every seven days to be sure, is on balance the right thing to do – and that is why we have changed our position.”

Speaking afterwards, Rhoda said: “I welcome the change in approach but wanted to make it clear that testing on a more regular basis than just once weekly would provide greater protection to staff and residents."

Rhoda also asked when will this level of “regular” testing be available in every one of Scotland’s care homes but Jeane Freeman failed to address this point.