For Western Isles residents who develop symptoms of COVID-19 infection, a local phoneline – 01851 601151 - has been launched to help them book a test.

The Scottish Government’s Test and Protect scheme was launched last week and is based on testing for anyone over five years of age who has symptoms of COVID-19. These symptoms include a new, persistent cough, high temperature or loss or change in sense of taste or smell.

In response to the national scheme, NHS Western Isles has expanded access to testing using mainland laboratory services.  Local testing arrangements remain in place for specific eligible groups such as people admitted to hospital and health, social care and emergency services workers.

Any Western Isles resident with symptoms can now book a test via the local phoneline: 01851 601151. The phoneline will be staffed from 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday with an answering machine available outwith those hours.

NHS Western Isles Director of Public Health, Dr Maggie Watts, stated: “When a Western Isles resident calls the phoneline, an NHS Western Isles member of staff will ask for details of the person to be tested, including name, contact information and symptoms. If appropriate, they will then arrange an appointment for a test. 

"The test will be arranged at one of the community assessment hubs located in Stornoway, Balivanich and Castlebay, with most of these tests being sent to the mainland for processing.  Results will be returned to NHS Western Isles, who will contact the residents individually once results are received back.

“As part of Test & Protect, people with symptoms will be advised to self-isolate until results are available.  Should a test show that the virus is present, NHS Western Isles will ask the individual to identify any people at increased risk of exposure to the virus through close contact with them. These contacts will then be telephoned and have an individualised discussion about what they need to do to break the chain of transmission of the virus, and what assistance is available to help them do this.”

Different arrangement to widen access to testing have been required for the Western Isles, and other Island Board areas, as regional drive-through and mobile testing units from the UK Government testing scheme are not accessible to our residents. 

NHS Western Isles staff have been working extremely hard with national agencies to secure an effective system for local residents that we are satisfied will ensure equitable access to testing arrangements said NHS Western Isles.

Angus MacNeil MP said in a media release: "“I am pleased to see that facilities will be available locally in Stornoway, Balivanich and Castlebay to enable Island residents to be tested for Coronavirus and I would urge anyone with symptoms to call this new phone line.

“We are fortunate in the Islands to have had only a small number of confirmed cases and none for a number of weeks but that does not mean that the virus is not present in our area.

“Anyone who has symptoms- a high temperature, a new persistent cough or loss or change in sense of smell or taste – should contact this number as soon as possible to get a test and follow the advice to self- isolate with their household until the result is known. This will help to maintain the safety of our families, friends and neighbours from this illness.

“The message is simple: don't hesitate if any symptoms present themselves."

(Commens from Angus MacNeil MP have been added since this article was first posted.)