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HSE to spend one billion euro on PPE as focus shifts to testing and tracing

HSE Chief Paul Reid said nine million masks are required by the healthcare service every week


Paul Reid, HSE CEO (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

Paul Reid, HSE CEO (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

Paul Reid, HSE CEO (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

The Health Service Executive will spend up to one billion euro on personal protective equipment this year, with similar amounts to be spent on testing and contact tracing as the country begins to move out of the pandemic.

On May 18, the country will reach stage one on the roadmap for easing restrictions. Garden centres and outdoors stores, where social distancing can take place, will re-open.

It will also be possible to meet small groups of friends and family outdoors.

On Sunday, Ireland’s coronavirus death toll rose to 1,458 after a further 12 deaths were announced by the National Public Health Emergency Team.

Some 236 new confirmed cases of the virus were confirmed, taking the total in Ireland since the outbreak began to 22,996.

Speaking on Sunday at a weekly press briefing, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said PPE would cost one billion euro per year, and there would be a “similar very significant cost” to establish a testing and contract tracing model for the country.

He said: “Our projections are that those costs will be likely over a billion in a year.

“The cost of not investing in these are much higher in terms of the cost for society of not dropping our restrictions.”

Mr Reid said nine million masks are required in the healthcare system every week – the height of 11 Liberty Hall buildings – which is 195 foot high.

He said the situation with Covid-19 is starting to improve as the numbers in ICU continue to trend downwards, and are now 55% lower than the peak of 160.

Non-Covid-19 health services are set to resume in hospitals as the numbers of people in ICU beds has decreased.

He said: “We can now commence non-Covid services in hospitals, but it won’t be easy.”

He warned however that the health service cannot return to the way it was before the pandemic, saying: “What we cannot do in the next phase is max out the capacity of the Irish health service.”

He said there are now three main priorities in non-Covid healthcare; cancer treatments, time-dependent surgery including transplants and maximising the use of private hospitals.


Dublin’s Mater hospital (Brian Lawless/PA)

Dublin’s Mater hospital (Brian Lawless/PA)


Dublin’s Mater hospital (Brian Lawless/PA)

He said while the HSE is starting to recommence regular hospital services, “we cannot go back to overcrowded hospitals as was the case before the pandemic”.

“We need to keep capacity under 80% and protect the public and staff from Covid-19,” he added.

Regarding the return to non-Covid services, Mr Reid said cancer would be a priority as well as cardiovascular surgery and other treatments.

He said it was important that mental health, and respite primary health care services also resume.

He said capacity in both the public and private healthcare services will be needed to be used in future.

Private hospitals became part of the public health system in March for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 2,000 beds, nine laboratories and thousands of staff have been drafted into the public system,

With lockdown measures due to ease slightly next week, he said testing had ramped up significantly as Ireland is on track to have the capacity to perform 100,000 tests per week from May 18 onwards.

He said all 30,000 staff and the 28,000 residents in nursing homes have now been tested, and labs now have a capacity to execute in the region of 15,000 tests per day.

The time it takes for a test from swab to result is 2.4 days which is in line with many of the other countries overall – and contact tracing was done within 1.5 days of that.

The Covid-19 contact tracing app will launch at the end of May, but Mr Reid said it will be part of a wider tracing operation and not the panacea.

He said: “The contact tracing app plays a role – not a major role – but it plays a role in terms of contact tracing process.”

Meanwhile, Health Minister Simon Harris urged people not to bend or stretch the public health rules.

He tweeted on Sunday: “If you’re thinking of bending or stretching the public health rules – please don’t.

“And to anyone who is, remember this number: 72.

“The number of people in ICU with Covid-19 fighting for their life and health.”

He said while people are looking forward to some restrictions being eased from May 18, people must stay the course.

He added: “People can’t just think it’s OK to start that from now…. Bottom line is: it’s not.

“It’s dangerous. Every day counts.

“The reason these restrictions are in place until then: to save your life and keep your loved ones well.”

The HSE will launch a new advertising campaign called “Hold Firm” inspired by the words of Irish President Michael D Higgins, written in his 1993 poem Take Care.

It comes as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled new “stay alert” advice in favour of the “stay at home” message in the fight against coronavirus.

Mr Reid said the advertisements will acknowledge the work of healthcare workers and Irish people to flatten the curve.

“Now we need to motivate and inspire people to keep going with those actions that help us to stay safe and protect each other,” he added.