Scottish Government accused of issuing misleading data to mask Test and Protect failures

SNP ministers were accused of issuing misleading performance figures for Scotland’s contact tracing system on Monday, after it emerged they omit tens of thousands of people it has failed to reach.

Staff working at Test and Protect have abandoned trying to find more than 50,000 Scots identified as close contacts of positive cases, mainly due to people failing to answer their phones.

However, these "failed cases" are excluded from the weekly figures issued by Public Health Scotland (PHS) on the system’s performance, thereby inflating the proportion of contacts reached within the target deadline.

Test and Protect has completed 80.4 per cent of its tracing within the recommended three-day limit if the abandoned cases are ignored. This is just above the World Health Organisation (WHO) benchmark of 80 per cent.

However, the Scottish Sun disclosed this proportion drops to 72 per cent when the 50,485 failed contact tracing efforts are included. Using this measurement, the WHO target has been missed in 14 out of 18 weeks since mid-May.

But Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly insisted the WHO’s target was being met when faced with questions about Test and Protect performance since last year.

‘We need to be able to trust the official statistics we’re seeing’

Jackie Baillie, the Scottish Labour leader, wrote to the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) on Monday calling for an investigation. The Scottish Government has already been rebuked by the watchdog for using misleading statistics during the pandemic.

She said: "In the chaos of this unprecedented public health crisis, we need to be able to trust the official statistics we’re seeing.

"These astonishing revelations sum up everything that is wrong with the SNP’s handling of the pandemic – they show a government more concerned with hiding their failures rather than fixing them. The WHO’s mantra may be test, test, test, but the SNP’s is spin, spin spin."

Dr Sandesh Gulhane, the Scottish Tories’ shadow health secretary, said: "It is clear SNP ministers have misled the public on their poor performance for as long as possible. They wanted to spin that they were on top of tracing positive cases, but nothing could be further from the truth."

The disclosure came after Test and Protect was scaled back again earlier this month as its contact tracers struggled to cope with a surge in cases.

‘We are confident in our interpretation of the data’

Whistleblowers disclosed they have been ordered to stop trying to phone positive cases if they make two failed attempts in four hours.

In July, contact tracers stopped asking positive cases about their interactions in pubs, restaurants and shops. The number of questions asked was then cut from 25 to five in the face of an earlier surge in cases.

PHS has said it was reviewing the way Test and Protect data is presented. A spokesman for the UKSA confirmed it had received Ms Baillie’s complaint.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We are confident in our interpretation of Public Health Scotland’s published data on contact tracing performance and how it relates to performance against the indicator of 80 per cent of cases closed within 72 hours. Those data reports set out transparently how performance figures are calculated.

"Test and Protect continues to work well, with contact tracing teams successfully handling record numbers of daily cases during the recent rise in cases, and it is an integral part of the frontline pandemic response."

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