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MLA left 'confused and alarmed' by test staff's 'inaccurate advice'


Concerned: DUP MLA Pam Cameron

Concerned: DUP MLA Pam Cameron

Concerned: DUP MLA Pam Cameron

The deputy chair of Stormont’s Health Committee has expressed grave concern about being given “inaccurate information” when she was tested for Covid-19.

Pam Cameron said her experience was “deeply alarming” and she has raised the issue with Health Minister Robin Swann.

The DUP MLA was messaged by Northern Ireland’s track and trace app on Wednesday to say that she had been “in close contact with someone who has Covid-19 and could be infected”.

Ulster Unionist MLA John Stewart has tested positive for coronavirus and other Stormont politicians are self-isolating.

The message from the StopCOVID NI app, run by the Public Health Agency instructed Ms Cameron to self-isolate for 14 days. After developing a headache and slight cough, the South Antrim MLA booked a test at a mobile testing unit on Thursday.

She said: “I was told by two separate individuals at the test centre that if my result came back negative on Friday, I could return to work immediately.

“That is inaccurate information. I have been in contact with someone who has Covid-19 and I need to self-isolate for 14 days because people who test negative initially can go on to develop Covid within the fortnight.”

The DUP MLA said she was left confused by the advice given at the test centre because it was in conflict with what she knew.

“If I was confused by what I was told — and I’m living and breathing Covid information in my Health Committee role — how dangerous would it be for an ordinary member of the public to be given that advice?” she said.

“They are much more likely to listen to the advice at the test centre which was totally wrong. I found the whole experience quite frightening. Lives can be lost because of inaccurate information. I have raised the issue with Robin Swann.”

The Public Health Agency said it did not comment on individual cases but staff at testing sites should not “give advice on result interpretation”.

A spokeswoman said: “Anyone who has been in contact with a positive case and is notified by the StopCOVID NI app should self-isolate for 14 days.

“If the test comes back negative, you still need to continue to self-isolate as the test can be negative in the early stages of the infection.

“Staff at testing sites in Northern Ireland co-ordinate the delivery of Covid-19 testing and should not give advice on result interpretation.

“Complaints in respect of service delivery are considered fully by the PHA in conjunction with the service provider.”

John Stewart is self-isolating after a positive Covid test. The Ulster Unionist MLA has reported feeling exhausted and having a severe headache.

An Assembly spokesperson has said efforts are underway to trace of all of Mr Stewart’s interactions with other Stormont users in order to determine if any additional measures are needed at this time. The spokesperson added: “We are also aware that a number of other MLAs are self-isolating at home.

“An enhanced cleaning regime has been in operation throughout Parliament Buildings during the Covid-19 health crisis and a comprehensive range of measures have been put in place to minimise the risk from Covid-19 to help ensure the safety of all building users. All of these measures are kept under constant review.”

Mr Swann — along with UUP MLAs Alan Chambers and Andy Allen, and independent MLA Trevor Lunn — are also self-isolating after being alerted via the Northern Ireland track and trace app that they had been in contact with someone who has Covid.

Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy became the fourth member of the Executive to self-isolate.

He tweeted that a close family member had tested positive for Covid, adding: “I will be testing and working from home for the next 14 days.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin are also self-isolating.

A relative of Ms O’Neill’s has Covid but the Sinn Fein vice-president has so far tested negative for the virus.

Ms Ni Chuilin said last week said that she would quarantine for 14 days after a close family member contracted coronavirus.

The North Belfast MLA has also tested negative for the virus.

Belfast Telegraph