COVID-19 Testing & laboratory capacity: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Information requested

How many tests are processed in:
24 hours
48 hours
72 hours
96 hours
120 hours +

How many tests are lost?

What is the current lab processing capacity for test results?


While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested. This is a formal notice under section 17 of FOISA – Information not held. However, you may wish to contact Public Health Scotland who may be able to help you by providing specific statistics.

The average total turnaround time in local health boards is just over 19 hours. Where tests are sent to another health board for processing, the total turnaround time is just over 44 hours. For testing carried out by the UK Government, the vast majority of test results are sent automatically within 48 hours, or 72 hours for home tests. We do not hold data on average turnaround times for tests carried out through the UK Government testing programme.

No test is perfect, and understanding the limitations of the tests we currently use is important. If we assume tests are perfect, and that results always accurate, we put others at risk. In PCR testing, the key risks are false negative results – where a test is negative but the person tested does actually have COVID-19 and is infectious – and occasions where the test is positive but the person tested is not infectious.

False negative results can happen if a swab misses collecting cells infected with the virus, or if virus levels are low – for example, at the start of an infection. The risk to others of false negative results is clear – an infectious person who receives a negative result risks transmitting the virus to others, including vulnerable people who can suffer very severe harm. In certain situations, testing again after a number of 5 days – when levels of the virus may be higher and therefore detectable – can reduce the risk of false negative results having serious consequences. Weak positive results can happen when the swab picks up fragments of the virus from an individual who is no longer infectious.

Laboratories in Scotland have now implemented confirmation testing (or repeat testing) in certain circumstances to confirm whether weak positive test results are actually infectious cases.
We will also actively monitor developments around testing innovation so we can take advantage of any new opportunities from testing they present.

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at


Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

Back to top