Varadkar says ‘dumping’ contact tracing problem on GPs ‘unfair’

Contentious issue dominates both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meetings tonight

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is understood to have told the meeting that he believes it was “unfair” to “dump this all on the GPs”. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is understood to have told the meeting that he believes it was “unfair” to “dump this all on the GPs”. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has told a private Fine Gael meeting that it was “very unfair” of the health service to “dump” on General Practitioners (GPs) the responsibility to resolve the emerging testing and tracing controversy.

At a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party this evening, Mr Varadkar said he first heard the news through The Irish Times on Tuesday night that the contact tracing system was so overwhelmed at the weekend that people who tested positive were being asked to do their own contact tracing.

He said that while the testing capacity was holding up well, the contact tracing side of the system was not going so well. Mr Varadkar is understood to have told the meeting that he believes it was “unfair” to “dump this all on the GPs”.

One person present said the Tánaiste said he was disappointed to hear a HSE spokesman “dumping this all on them”.

Multiple sources present at the meeting said that the Tánaiste said that the HSE had been asked by various Ministers over the last few months if it had enough contact tracers and told the Government that it had.

Mr Varadkar said contact tracers were not expensive and the HSE had been told there would never be an issue funding these posts.

One source said the Fine Gael leader explained to the meeting that the HSE had previously told the Government that staff they had let go in contact tracing during the quieter months could be re-hired.

Mr Varadkar is understood to have told the meeting “that is not what happened”.

He said that the Government has been told that the number of cases quickly went from 600 a day to 1,200 a day, and that this is where the issue first emerged.

The Fine Gael meeting also heard how GPs feel under “breaking point” because of the tracing controversy.

Mayo TD Alan Dillon said a number of GPs had contacted the party in anger because they now feel they are struggling to keep up between Covid and non-Covid referrals, on top of mental health referrals.

Senator Tim Lombard is understood to have raised concerns that the issue of contact tracing had dogged the Government for months and it could become a “huge issue” over the coming six weeks if not addressed urgently.

The Tánaiste told the meeting that the HSE contact tracing services would now “reset” and get the system back up and running again.

Meanwhile Mr Varadkar also updated his party on the move to Level 5 due to come into force on Thursday.

He said that the risk of getting the approach wrong was possibly hundreds if not thousands of premature deaths this summer.

He described the move to a Level Five as “our one last best shot”.

The Tánaiste warned that new restrictions were being introduced on an almost fortnightly basis since the summer and that because of that, the Government is coming to the end of the road in that regard.

One source said that he warned that if the current lockdown is successful, there will be calls to extend it in December by those who advocate for a zero Covid approach.

Furthermore, he is understood to have said that Ireland now has the strongest Covid 19 restrictions “this side of Israel” in Europe and that he believes time will prove the Irish approach was right, although there was always a possibility that it might not be.

He also said a third lockdown in January is “not inevitable” if the situation can be controlled.

The issue has also been discussed this evening at a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, where TDs reported receiving large volumes of calls from worried members of the public and GPs.

The Fianna Fáil parliamentary party heard calls for a special “one stop shop” hotline to deal with specific queries on Covid restrictions. It is understood that the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the tracing issue was a once-off problem which had materialised.

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