Adapt Shetland salmon testing machines to detect coronavirus, says Scottish minister

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Health Secretary Jeane Freeman faces call to speed up process. Are Grieg’s Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machines the answer?

Press and Journal reports that Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart has made a plea to the Scottish Government and the country’s Health Secretary to adapt salmon testing machines to help test coronavirus.

Jeane Freeman SNP. PHOTO:Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

At the moment, swabs have to be processed on the mainland. Wishart was hoping that the remote Northern Isles of Scotland could take a leaf out of fellow remoters the Faroe Islands, who have been repurposing equipment and laboratories from the salmon farming industry to test the populace.

“There are two machines in Shetland normally used for testing fish diseases – one at Grieg’s Salmon, the other at SSQC (Shetland Seafood Quality Control). The Cabinet Secretary will be aware that in Faroe increased testing capacity was achieved by using similar equipment,” said Wishart.

Beatrice Wishart MSP, Liberal Democrat Shetland Islands.. PHOTO: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

The Health Secretary told Wishart that: “To do that we have to make sure the machines are the right ones for the PCR test that we use – that is the test that has 91 per cent accuracy in terms of sensitivity and around 90 per cent accuracy in terms of being able to identify this kind of virus as well as other viruses”.

Grieg Seafood Shetland confirmed to SalmonBusiness that it was already in discussions with NHS Scotland to share equipment, however that particular machine did not meet the health authority’s requirements.

“We were aware that the real time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine, which we use for detecting the presence of fish diseases, could also potentially be used for covid-19 testing, and thought it was worth checking out whether the equipment would be useful to NHS Shetland,” said Grieg Seafood Shetland Managing Director Grant Cumming to SalmonBusiness.

“We do however understand that NHS Shetland have to adhere to national guidelines, and it is our impression today that our PCR machine does not meet those guidelines. We welcome further dialogue if adaptions can be made that allows NHS Shetland to use the machine, or if there is anything else we can do to help out. The NHS Shetland are working hard to find good solutions for our islands in these challenging times,” he added.