Coronavirus testing policy in the Western Isles – and across Scotland – is not giving an accurate picture of the presence of the COVID-19 virus, says Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus Brendan MacNeil.

Mr MacNeil has spoken to NHS Western Isles chief executive Gordon Jamieson, challenging the effectiveness of a testing system which shows no confirmed cases of the virus in the islands.

welovestornoway.com has stopped headlining the official figures for Island cases because we are aware there are a number of people in self-isolation on the Islands who are believed to have the virus but who won't be tested unless their condition worsens and they are admitted to hospital.

Mr MacNeil said today (Friday 20 March): “If you don’t test for a virus, you don’t find people who have got it. If NHS Western Isles could test here they would, but they just don’t have the wherewithal and that is the responsibility of NHS Scotland’s procurement team, who have been unable to get testing equipment out.

“This is not just a problem in the Hebrides but in the whole of Scotland. The Republic of Ireland plans to be testing 15,000 people a day in a population of 4.83 million, which is broadly comparable to Scotland’s 5.4 million.

“At the moment we are being told that the peak of cases in the Western Isles will be in six weeks, but we have identified no cases. NHS Western Isles is following Government policy, which is to wait for people to present at hospital with symptoms and, in the past few days, nobody has done so. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have the virus here.”

A spokesperson for NHS Western Isles confirmed that the authority is following Government policy, which is to test people who attend at Western Isles Hospital and who have symptoms of COVID-19.

In addition one of Stornoway’s GP practices has been acting as a ‘spotting practice’, where patients who attend with symptoms are swabbed and the swabs sent away to Glasgow for analysis. It is on the basis of these results that the Western Isles’ current zero cases figure has been established.

The spokesperson said: “The positive news is that we will be getting a testing machine, which is to be sited at Western Isles Hospital, and which will give us a much clearer picture of the current situation. We are keen to follow World Health Authority guidance, which is ‘test, test, test’.”

Mr MacNeil has proposed a quicker method for radically increasing the number of people tested in the islands and has asked Mr Jamieson to look into it.

He said: “In the Faroes they are using ‘passage and test’ virus-testing equipment from the salmon-farming industry, which can be quickly adapted to test for any virus. They are testing 200 people a day in a population of 50,000. I have spoken to Gordon Jamieson about this and he has promised me that he will be investigating the possibility with the salmon farming industry today.”

“We are being asked to wait two weeks for a test kit, but we can’t sit and wait for two weeks. It’s here already and it will be spreading like wildfire now and next week. If we were to test 200 people here in the isles, today, we would find it.”

NHS Western Isles has been approached for further comment.