Row over testing backlog as UK Government hits back at Sturgeon over 'untrue' claim

Dan Sanderson
·3-min read
A laboratory technician at the Lighthouse Lab in Glasgow, which has become the centre of another row between SNP and Tory ministers - ANDREW MILLIGAN/AFP
A laboratory technician at the Lighthouse Lab in Glasgow, which has become the centre of another row between SNP and Tory ministers - ANDREW MILLIGAN/AFP

A row erupted between London and Edinburgh on Sunday over a delay in processing thousands of coronavirus tests, after Nicola Sturgeon’s claim that the UK government was to blame was branded “categorically untrue”.

The Scottish Government said that issues at the UK-run Lighthouse Lab in Glasgow had meant 64,000 samples had to be sent elsewhere for processing at the weekend, explaining why daily case figures issued on Sunday were incomplete.

However, Whitehall insiders said that they were bewildered by the claim, and insisted the facility was running as normal. 

A UK Government spokeswoman said there was no capacity issue at the “highly efficient” lab and added: ‘’This claim is categorically untrue”.

Confusion emerged after the daily case figures for Scotland were delayed by several hours. A statement was then published in which the Scottish Government said it had been told late last week of a “testing capacity issue” at the Glasgow lab.

It added: “This has meant around 64,000 tests from across the UK, including Scotland, will be rerouted this weekend to other testing sites in the UK and Northern Ireland, including tests from our physical testing sites, for example regional tests sites.   

“The Scottish Government is urgently trying to establish with the UK Government what exactly is causing the delay in testing but this is mainly due to demand from outwith Scotland.”

The figures eventually published showed just 316 people had tested positive for the virus in Scotland over the previous 24 hours, although the lower than normal number was explained by the delay in processing tests.

The First Minister wrote on Twitter that the delay had been caused by “a processing delay within the UK lab system” and that she would give more details today.

However, UK Government sources said the rerouting of tests across the UK was routine, and that they suspected Scottish ministers were trying to deflect blame.

A spokeswoman said: ‘’This claim is categorically untrue - there is no capacity issue at Glasgow’s Lighthouse Lab facility. The Lighthouse Lab in Glasgow is a highly efficient lab with the capacity to analyse tens of thousands of samples a day.

‘’Rerouting tests to other laboratories is a routine practice to ensure timely processing.

‘’There are now over 500 test sites and mobile testing units in operation across the UK. We are expanding testing capacity rapidly with new Lighthouse Laboratories as we drive towards our target capacity of 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.”

A Scottish Government spokesman issued a further statement on Sunday night, in which it blamed issues in the UK wide system but did not single out the Glasgow lab.

He said:  "We were notified by the UK Government that routine care home tests would be rerouted on Thursday, and further rerouting of physical testing of symptomatic patients late on Friday night. The UK Government explained that the rerouting was necessary to ensure as quick as possible response to tests due to capacity problems in the Lighthouse system."