The closure of a Covid-19 testing lab in Edinburgh had been planned since it opened, the First Minister said amid criticism from opposition MSPs about the “shocking” move.
The temporary lab at Edinburgh University was opened in April to boost testing capacity in the NHS Lothian health board area, but it was “put into hibernation” in July when it was no longer needed.
A spokesman for the university said the decision was made due to a decline in demand.
The issue was raised by Greens health spokeswoman Alison Johnstone during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.
In response, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The laboratory was activated in the early stages of the pandemic because we didn’t, at that stage, have the NHS capacity and it was activated while we were building that NHS capacity.
“It was never designed to be a permanent provision.”
The First Minister said the capacity within NHS Lothian has doubled since the lab was opened, meaning the Edinburgh University facility was able to return to research, including on coronavirus.
The creation of three regional testing hubs has also allowed labs used for testing during the early stages of the pandemic to return to their initial purposes, the First Minister said.
She added: “We’re building the NHS capacity so that some of the provision that was used in the early stages can return to the purposes that it was initially for.”
In a statement, Ms Johnstone said: “It is shocking that an NHS testing lab has closed during the global pandemic.
“This lab closed while the First Minister was rejecting my proposals for regular testing of frontline staff, a call backed by the Royal College for Emergency Medicine, the Royal College for Nursing and Scottish Carers.
“The lack of testing in Scotland has been a policy choice. The World Health Organisation has been crystal clear from the very beginning that this virus can only be controlled through the vigorous application of testing, testing, testing.
“The reasons for this closure are very telling. There are serious questions about why a Covid-19 testing lab was not receiving enough samples.”
Scottish Tory health spokesman Donald Cameron called for on Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to say if she signed off on the decision to end Covid-19 testing at the facility, adding: “We are at a critical point in our fight against coronavirus, yet the Scottish Government deem it fit to have closed vital testing capacity.
“The UK Government is providing the majority of testing in Scotland, and we need to see a similar commitment from the Scottish Government to rapidly expand testing through their own channels.”
A spokesman for Edinburgh University said: “In September, the research laboratories in the institute had re-opened, performing important medical research including on SARS Co-V2, and so it was not possible to accommodate testing at this site, so a decision was made with the NHS not to reactivate the site.
“Instead, in light of the current increase in testing requirements, an alternative university site has been offered to the NHS and is currently being considered.”