Slow Covid test results prompt home help providers to contact trace

Homecare body claims it can be three days before clients are told if a carer tests positive

HSE carries  out serial testing of nursing home residents and staff, but not of homecare workers.  Photograph: Alan Betson

HSE carries out serial testing of nursing home residents and staff, but not of homecare workers. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Homecare providers say they have been forced to do their own tracing of contacts of positive Covid-19 cases because the official system is so slow.

“Contact tracing is bad at the moment, so our members are having to do it,” according to Joseph Musgrave, chief executive of Home and Community Care Ireland. “If a carer tests positive it can be three days before clients are contacted and that’s way too long.”

Currently, HCCI members are providing care for 50 people who have tested positive for the virus; 13 who are at home and the rest in hospital. This compares with a maximum of 91 during the height of the pandemic.

While the Health Service Executive is carrying out serial testing of nursing home residents and staff, this is not happening in the homecare sector because this is not considered a congregated – and, therefore, at risk – setting.

Expressing concerns about the level of consultation with the sector, Mr Musgrave says the Government may have “lost the summer. Where we are now, what we’ve learned about the virus, this hasn’t been passed to our sector. We still don’t know what the official thinking is about protecting people in their home”.

The after-effects of lockdown are still being felt, with 840 older people continuing to self-isolate and not receiving their pre-pandemic homecare. Though down from a high of more than 4,000 during the lockdown, the figure is indicative of the continuing levels of anxiety about the virus among older people.

Meanwhile, 415 carers are in self-isolation, up nine on the August figure, due to being contacts of cases or having a positive test.

HCCI, whose members care for 20,000 people and employ 10,000 care workers, holds its annual conference on Thursday, the UN international day of older people.

Winter plan

Last week’s HSE winter plan promised an additional 4.7 million home help hours, equivalent to a 25 per cent boost in supply. Mr Musgrave says this will require the hiring of an additional 800 carers but the sector can “probably make it work”.

“The plan is great news for vulnerable people and their families and will help to manage hospital occupancy and other healthcare facilities this winter. However, to make all this happen, we need Government to lead a consultation process, along with the HSE and homecare providers.” 

As for the longer-term Government goal of doubling home help hours, he says this would need 6,000 more staff. HCCI is seeking a workforce review, wage protection for carers of virus patients who cannot work for other clients, training supports and targeted testing for the sector.

Former junior minister Jim Daly has been appointed by HCCI to chair a new employment taskforce. The group says insurance is increasingly becoming a problem, with two providers recently refused cover due to difficulties over “unquantifiable” Covid-19 risks.