Jason Leitch: Reports of free lateral flows being scrapped are ‘red herring’

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  • Jason Leitch
    National Clinical Director of The Scottish Government

Concerns that the UK Government will end free lateral flow tests are a “red herring” and therefore the Scottish Government is not making any contingency plans, Professor Jason Leitch has said.

Scotland’s National Clinical Director said there is “no intelligence” that reports of scrapping free coronavirus testing are true.

The UK’s Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, denied there are plans to stop providing free lateral flow devices after a Sunday Times story suggested Prime Minister Boris Johnson would announce the change within weeks.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned that scrapping free lateral flows would be an “utterly wrongheaded” approach to dealing with Covid-19.

But, asked about the reports, Prof Leitch said the Scottish Government believes the UK Government’s denial and expects lateral flow tests will continue to be “freely available”.

The Scottish Government accesses lateral flow tests that are procured by the UK Government on behalf of all four nations, and it pays for them via funding arrangements as part of the UK-wide national testing programme.

Speaking on BBC Good Morning Scotland, Prof Leitch said: “We procure them four-country wide, we distribute four-country wide.

“We have no intelligence at all that story is true so we’re carrying on anticipating lateral flow tests will be freely available.”

Pressed about whether the Scottish Government is making contingency plans in case the UK Government decides to end their free supply, he said: “We think it’s a red herring.

“We believe the UK Government when they say it’s not true.”

When Mr Zahawi was asked about the possibility of ending free lateral flows on Sunday, the Cabinet minister said “absolutely not”, adding that he was “puzzled” by the report.

But he indicated support for reducing the isolation period from seven days to five, if it can be done safely, in order to reduce staffing pressures on the NHS and businesses.

Coronavirus – Wed May 26, 2021
Scotland’s National Clinical Director Professor Jason Leitch (left) with Health Secretary Humza Yousaf (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

However, Prof Leitch said it is “far too early to make that decision”.

He continued: “We’ve only just gone from 10 to seven. We went from 14 to 10 some time ago, now we’ve gone from 10 to seven with quite a lot of extra steps – a couple of tests, vaccination and all those other things to get released if you possibly can – but there’s no suggestion yet that we should move to five.

“They’ve done it in some limited parts of the world but the data suggests that’s a risk, particularly at high levels of infection.

“So we’re not intending to do that.”

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