Around 20 per cent of a consignment of personal protection equipment (PPE) delivered from China last weekend does not meet HSE requirements, and cannot be distributed to staff dealing with patients infected with Covid-19.
During a briefing on Sunday morning, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said 20 per cent of the consignment sent from China did not meet the requirements of the Irish health service but would be used for other purposes – for example in isolation units.
Another 15 per cent was “acceptable for use if a preferred product is not available”, he said. This category included white gowns, and had a value of about €4 million.
Some 65 per cent of the first batch delivered was identified as suitable for use, and has been distributed.
HSE infectious diseases clinical lead Prof Martin Cormican said just because equipment does not suit Irish requirements does not mean there was something wrong with it. Staff would need training to use much of the equipment.
He said much of the 20 per cent category of items not meeting HSE requirements were masks that do not meet the requirement for specific respiratory masks.
Mr Reid said the HSE did not want any further deliveries of this kit as part of the ongoing order. He expected to see samples with revised specifications sent next week, and the supplier was co-operating in this regard.
It also emerged at the briefing that the ability of the health service to test for coronavirus will be doubled from next week, according to Mr Reid.
From then testing capacity of laboratories in the State will increase to 4,500 a day compared to a current capacity of 2,000 to 2,500 tests a day, depending on the availability of testing reagent.
Due to shortages in laboratory materials and kits, this throughput fell to 1,500 tests a day last week.
Mr Reid said a German supplier came on board last Friday, and was now in a position to perform 2,000 tests a day.
Testing is now being performed by the National Virus Reference Laboratory in UCD and at laboratories in 18 hospitals. Further testing capacity would come on board next week, including the State laboratory at Backweston, Celbridge.
However, Mr Reid cautioned that the supply of reagents needed for the testing process remained a challenge. The HSE was “still looking at other EU solutions as we continue to source the reagent supply”.
He said this was a “very significant worldwide challenge”, with competition to secure a supply.
He said the HSE was making progress with some companies and “not so much progress with others”.
Mr Reid also said the health service had separately received donations of PPE equipment, but described this material as unsuitable for a healthcare setting and would not be distributed or used.
Addressing the ability of the health service to deal with an anticipated surge in cases, he said capacity had been increased so there were now 2,500 extra beds in the public system, 2,500 in private hospitals, 1,100 isolation beds in Citywest, 450 overflow beds in Citywest that were being provided, and another 1,200 isolation beds across the country.
To add to 1,100 ventilators in public and private hospitals, 25 new ventilators have been sent to the Mater and St James’s hospitals, and a further 225 are scheduled to arrive next week.
Mr Reid said a total of 1,300 ventilators would be available by the middle of the month.
Some 37,000 tests for Covid-19 have been completed, and their results returned, according to HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor.