Covid-19 testing in mental health facilities ‘inconsistent and untimely’

Mental Health Commission report finds dormitory accommodation spreads the virus

“The commission noted that there were significant geographic disparities in the ability to commence and complete the mass testing of staff and residents.”  File photograph: Getty

“The commission noted that there were significant geographic disparities in the ability to commence and complete the mass testing of staff and residents.” File photograph: Getty

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The Covid-19 testing strategy in the State’s mental health facilities is “inconsistent and untimely”, while dormitory-style accommodation was a factor in disease progression in a number of the worst affected services, according to a new report.

The Mental Health Commission on Thursday publishes its Covid-19 review papery, which provides observations gathered as part of its role in supervising and supporting 181 mental health services for the period March to July.

At the outset of the monitoring period, the report says, “an early risk” was identified in relation to facilities with shared accommodation and limited ability to isolate residents.

“Rapid service reconfiguration was undertaken in many areas, including temporary closures and the use of alternative facilities,” it says. “It has been observed that the use of dormitory-style accommodation was a factor in disease progression in a number of the services worst affected by Covid-19.”

The report is also critical of the testing strategy.

“End-to-end staff testing took more than a month, and many services reported significant delays in the communication of results.

“No guidance was provided on criteria for retesting staff, or the expectations around how often staff would be tested.

“The commission considers that staff testing should not be seen as a once-off process, and that a strategy for service wide or sampling of staff testing should have been embedded into health policy and repeated regularly.

“The commission observed the national testing strategy to be inconsistent and untimely. The commission noted that there were significant geographic disparities in the ability to commence and complete the mass testing of staff and residents.

“At times this process lacked co-ordination and oversight, and appeared to arbitrarily exclude certain services without explanation.

Inpatient services

“The commission expressed concern that certain mental health services such as private services and certain inpatient services were excluded from the testing plan for residential care facilities.”

The report notes that 28 services reported confirmed resident cases of Covid-19. Of those 19 were approved centres, and eight were community residences.

Some 47 services reported confirmed staff cases of Covid-19, while 31 per cent (56) of all mental health services reported confirmed resident and/or staff cases.

In total, 55 per cent (37) of approved centres reported confirmed resident and/or staff cases. There were 17 deaths from Covid-19 across three approved centres.

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