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Discovery of Inverness-bound Covid samples on A9 near Tain 'absolutely appalling' and 'a major embarrassment'

By Gordon Calder

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The discovery of Covid-19 test samples on the A9 was described today as "absolutely appalling" and "a major embarrassment for NHS Highland".

A medical bag understood to be full of vacuum-packed samples – being transported from Wick to Inverness – was found on the trunk road near Tain earlier in the week by a member of the public.

The health board is investigating how it could have happened and has given an assurance that at no point was there a danger to the public.

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone is demanding answers and an assurance from NHS Highland that steps will be taken to ensure it does not occur again.

Mr Stone said: "I am absolutely appalled that the personal details of my constituents – and their right to confidentiality – has been breached.

"Imagine if your name was splattered across one of those samples and how exposed you would feel. It’s truly horrific.

"Goodness knows, times are bad and terrifying enough without this sort of incident taking place."

The Liberal Democrat MP added: "I seek two things. Firstly, to know what happened. NHS Highland has been quick to set up an investigation, which I am grateful for, but I urge them to ensure that it is thorough and transparent.

"Secondly, I must see with my own eyes that systems have been put in place to make sure this can never happen again.

"The police and NHS Highland have been very quick to respond, and I am grateful to them for that. But we cannot be letting our guard down."

Bill Fernie, chairman of Caithness Health Action Team, said: "I am concerned that material from Caithness General Hospital was lost on its way to Raigmore in Inverness. If they lose that, what else could they lose?

"My question would be, 'Has anything like this ever happened before?'

"It is a major embarrassment for NHS Highland, if nothing else, but I am reassured by what they have said and I feel they will do everything they can to make sure something like this never happens again."

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “This is very worrying. I’ll be pressing the Scottish Government and NHS Highland for an explanation.

“It just seems bizarre that they can be found on a road by a member of the public, especially during heightened health and safety awareness due to the pandemic.”

A spokesman for NHS Highland said: "We can confirm that samples being transported from Caithness General Hospital in Wick to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness were found on the A9 near Tain. The samples were handed in to the local police station and are now with the laboratory team at Raigmore.

"We are investigating how this could have happened to ensure this will not happen again and would like to reassure everyone that at no point was there a danger to the public from these samples. They were packed properly and remained intact.

"We are very grateful to the member of the public who handed the box of samples to the police."

After Nicola Sturgeon had outlined the next phase of the route out of lockdown, Jamie Stone said he was disappointed the First Minister had not mentioned the samples found on the A9. "I really do think that this mystery raises some serious questions about the safety measures in place for transporting Covid samples, and I would have liked to see some clarifications made on that point," Mr Stone added.

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