Health chief apologises for lack of tests as Western Isles hit by worst outbreak since covid began

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The head of NHS Western Isles has apologised for a lack of Covid tests following the highest daily case numbers to date.

The spike surged on Thursday November 4, when the health board reported 36 new cases in 24 hours, all of which were on the Isle of Lewis.

Following the outbreak, NHS Western Isles faced an ‘unprecedented’ demand for tests. In its regular updates on social media, it said: ‘We wish to apologise to people waiting for testing. We are seeing unprecedented demand and we have a backlog.’

As a solution, it ran overnight testing and sent for a mobile testing unit from the mainland.

Infections continued to climb on November 5, with two further cases detected each on the Isles of Barra, Benbecula and North Uist, and a further 31 on Lewis, NHS Western Isles’ chief executive Gordon Jamieson reported.

The next day, Saturday November 6, the health board updated: ‘NHS Western Isles has seen more cases of Covid-19 in one day this week than we saw in the first six months of last year.

‘Many of the cases have a large number of adults and children who are their close contacts.

‘Alongside the measures to keep everyone safe – wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, keeping physical distancing and limiting the number of people in social gatherings – we offer testing to contacts to help reduce the spread.

‘We are trying to test more people than ever before. Up till now, we have always been able to maintain the incredibly rapid turnaround times that have been the envy of many other areas in Scotland.

‘We have now moved to turnaround times similar to the mainland and ask people to bear with us whilst we increase the testing capacity by accessing a mobile testing unit from the mainland.

‘We will get tests arranged as quickly as we can, although we have to prioritise some tests over others, for example, hospital admissions and care home tests.

‘You will be contacted with the result of your test within 48 hours of it being taken. If you have waited 72 hours, please contact us to check on your result. Otherwise, please do not call the Covid line as they cannot speed up the processes.

‘We have a no tolerance policy for abuse or threats to our staff and will report to the police as appropriate. We do appreciate your patience and understanding.’

Many islanders offered the service messages of support and gratitude. ‘We know you are all doing your very best to keep us safe. Thank you,’ said one. ‘How lucky we are up here – incredible service and dedication, which is appreciated,’ wrote another.

The board reported more than 300 people had been vaccinated on Saturday across the islands, and posted information about covid booster and flu drop in clinics. That day 14 more cases were reported on Lewis, followed on Sunday by a further 18 on the island, plus one other case each on North Uist and Harris.

Meanwhile in Lochaber, NHS Highland will be delivering the following vaccination clinics for these GP practices: Acharacle, Covid and flu; Ballachulish, Covid and flu; Cill Chumein, Covid; Glen Mor, Covid; Kinlochleven, Covid; Mallaig and Arisaig, Covid, and Tweeddale, Covid and flu.

Eligible patients with these practices will be invited by letter or asked to call the vaccination hub. Appointments can also be rescheduled via the NHS Highland vaccination hub. Please only call the hub if you have been asked to. Other clinics are being run by your own GP practices and they will get in touch with patients directly.

NHS Highland said: ‘We will roll out vaccination over the coming weeks, prioritising the over 70s, the clinically extremely vulnerable and the severely immunosuppressed and working through other eligible groups.

‘We have clinics scheduled for the remainder of the month in Fort William, Ballachulish, Sheilbridge, Kinlochleven, Kilchoan and Mallaig.

‘Patients will be invited by letter to these clinics with the exception of the clinics on November 22 and 29 in the Nevis Centre, Fort William. These two clinics are drop in for patients registered with non-participating practices.’