More than 1,300 tests missed by confirmed contacts of Covid-19 cases

TD asks if gardaí could be sent to homes of people who are not turning up

The HSE, said the service does not take the issue of missed tests lightly “and we make every effort to find people who are not answering phones”. Photograph: iStock

The HSE, said the service does not take the issue of missed tests lightly “and we make every effort to find people who are not answering phones”. Photograph: iStock

 

More than 1,300 test appointments were missed by confirmed contacts of people infected with Covid-19, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

The Health Service Executive confirmed in correspondence sent to the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 that as of July 2nd, 547 did not attend for a first test, and a further 767 did not attend for a second appointment, meaning a total of 1,314 test appointments had been missed.

Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd, who raised the issue at the committee on Tuesday afternoon, said that it should be considered whether gardaí could be sent to the homes of people who are not turning up for their tests.

“They should call and (ask) would they please in the public interest turn up,” the Fine Gael TD said.

Dr Lorraine Doherty, National Clinical Director, Health Protection at the HSE, said the service does not take the issue of missed tests lightly “and we make every effort to find people who are not answering phones”.

She said four or five attempts are made by contact tracers, and where they are unsuccessful, details are sent on to local public health departments. “We intend to do further analysis on it and look at what factors might be influencing reluctance and whether there is a particular demographic aren’t turning up.”

The HSE representatives were asked about the winter flu vaccination programme. Mr O’Dowd said it would be an “appalling vista” if there was a serious outbreak of winter flu coupled with a second surge of Covid-19 in the country.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, assistant national director of the HSE, said the health service is ordering a total of 2 million vaccines for the coming winter, an increase of 200,000 on an ordinary year.

HSE officials also indicated that there may be a case for relaxing the two metre social distancing rules in some healthcare scenarios. Asked whether it would consider doing so by Solidarity TD Mick Barry, Dr Kelleher said the evidence about the spread had to be considered.

“The two metres is primarily a social distancing issue and you don’t totally need to have that in every aspect of healthcare work if there’s the other means of compensating for it via PPE or doing other things to compensate to make sure you can get past that issue.”

Dr Doherty echoed his comments, saying that infection control guidance, training for healthcare workers and PPE are all “mitigating factors in limiting the spread of infection within that environment.”

“We take advice on infection prevention control from experts in that field who advise that it is safe to decrease that distance from two metres to one meter of separation. We need to take advice from people in the field of preventing the spread of infection in healthcare settings,” she said.

Asked about the prevalence of Covid in healthcare workers here, Dr John Cuddihy, acting director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said the rate of infection was partially influenced by the broad definition of healthcare worker used by Ireland, and the fact that those working in the healthcare system are prioritised for testing, with more being tested as a result.

The committee later heard that roughly 5,000 of the more than 8,000 healthcare workers who have been infected work in the public system.

Liam Woods, the national director of the acute hospitals division, said that the current supply chain for PPE used by the HSE is “bringing us in adequate supply” at the moment.