‘Unacceptable’ delays in testing for staff in mental health units – Commission

Mental Health Commission criticises ‘inconsistencies’ in staff testing for Covid-19

The Mental Health Commission (MHC) has criticised "unacceptable" delays in Covid-19 testing of staff in mental health units.

The commission says there continues to be “significant inconsistencies” in the process for staff testing, including the extent of planning, testing that is under way, and delays in results, “despite guidance requiring all staff to be tested being introduced more than two weeks ago”.

"We do not consider the timeframes for staff testing to be acceptable," according to MHC chief executive John Farrelly. "While we received some assurance on the testing process from the HSE over the weekend, we have still not been assured around the delivery of results.

“Testing is just one part of the process. Once the testing has taken place, staff should be receiving the results of tests in a swift, standardised and consistent manner. Our evidence shows that this is not currently happening.”

By last Friday, 16 residents with Covid-19 had died in mental health services, up four since the previous week, figures show.

A total of 45 services, out of 179, reported suspected or confirmed cases – down from 55 the previous week.

The number of suspected or confirmed cases involving residents was 81, down from 112, while the number of staff cases dropped from 179 to 128.

The commission says it has been told staff in acute admission units will be blanket tested only if there is an outbreak of the virus.

“We are deeply concerned about this decision,” Mr Farrelly said. “Our risk assessment shows that every acute inpatient unit includes either residents over 60, or those with underlying medical conditions. In addition, they are high-physical contact environments, and have higher numbers of admissions.”

Highlighting the absence of the standardised approach, the commission says some services are testing residents on admission and isolating them until results are received. Given the number of asymptomatic cases, this may need to happen across all services, it says.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times