Covid-19: Contact tracing recruits asked to bring own laptops to work due to HSE delay

Health service says new staff will not use tracing software on personal computers

The new recruits were asked in a letter to bring their own laptops due to a delay on HSE equipment. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The new recruits were asked in a letter to bring their own laptops due to a delay on HSE equipment. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

New coronavirus contact-tracing recruits were told to bring their own laptop to work because HSE laptops are not yet available, it has emerged.

According to a list of guidelines seen by The Irish Times, new recruits were told that after a period of shadowing other contact-tracing staff in one centre, they would be rostered for work.

The correspondence asked recruits to “bring your laptop if you have one. You might not need one while shadowing, but will need one for work as we are still awaiting HSE laptops”.

On Tuesday night, a spokeswoman for the HSE denied recruits would be asked to work on their laptops and said they would not be accessing the tracker system.

“A small number of new contact-tracer recruits were asked to bring their own laptops to training in one of our centres,” the spokeswoman said.

“Due to the large number of new recruits, 270 by last Friday, a small number of new laptops are not available yet.

“This cohort of trainee contact tracers will not be accessing the Covid Care Tracker live system until they are in possession of a work laptop. The Covid care tracker is a Microsoft Cloud system on a secure server and cannot be accessed by external devices.

“All new contact tracers will have a work laptop before they are rostered on to begin contact tracing,” the spokeswoman said.

Elsewhere, new HSE statistics show a recent surge in case numbers led to delays in contact tracing and turnaround times “well outside the normal range”.

Tracing

The figures, released to The Irish Times, show that in the seven days up to last Thursday, a majority of positive cases took more than four days to complete the testing and tracing process.

This is the same period where the pressure on the system led the HSE to ask almost 2,000 people to undertake their own contact tracing.

The data shows 53.2 per cent of positive cases took more than 96 hours from referral for testing to the completion of contact tracing.

The figures show that just 0.6 per cent of positive cases completed the process in less than 24 hours, during the period, and 16.6 per cent in less than three days, which is the timeframe recommended by most experts.

The HSE said in a statement that the “considerable increases in cases put the contact-tracing system under significant pressures and increased the turnaround times well outside the normal range”.

For negative cases, which do not need to be contact traced, the turnaround time was much quicker. The HSE said it is meeting its target of completing this process within three days for 90 per cent of samples. It said that as of last Friday, the HSE’s contact-tracing system has been “back within normal timeframes”.

Meanwhile, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said last night it was too early to tell whether Ireland had turned a corner in its management of Covid-19.

A further 720 cases were confirmed on Tuesday, down from a high of more than 1,000 over an eight-day period earlier in the month. There were also five deaths reported bringing the total to 1,890.

Separately, a HSE briefing for the Oireachtas health committee has revealed the events leading to the decision to ask 1,971 people to conduct their own contact tracing.

While the system “worked well” in August and September, a “sudden significant” rise in cases early October “exceeded the capacity of our tracing system as it was set up”.

The contact tracers also cut the number of questions they asked people, in order to speed up calls.

News Digests

Stay on top of the latest newsSIGN UP HERE