| 8°C Belfast

Testing system to be redesigned in bid to increase turnaround time

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan told the Oireachtas committee there is no certainty that Ireland can keep the virus suppressed.

Close

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan appears before the special Covid-19 committee (Special Covid-19 Oireachtas committee/PA)

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan appears before the special Covid-19 committee (Special Covid-19 Oireachtas committee/PA)

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan appears before the special Covid-19 committee (Special Covid-19 Oireachtas committee/PA)

The testing and contact tracing system will be redesigned as part of the HSE’s plan to have a processing system that is “as real time as possible”, the secretary general of the Department of Health said.

Jim Breslin told the special Covid-19 Oireachtas committee that the target turnaround time is three days for 70% of all tests.

He said one of the ways to achieve that is by texting negative results, which he said would “really speed things up”.

“But we do want to continue to improve those, and what we have is a system which was patched together, but now needs to be redesigned end to end,” Mr Breslin added.

“The HSE is doing that, working on information systems and processing systems to get that down as real time as possible.”

Mr Breslin warned that further waves of Covid-19 are an “ever present” danger.

“The progress is such that we can now collectively take some calculated risks in extending the range of activities it is permitted to undertake,” he added.

“But we need to be aware that we will continue to be in the acute emergency phase of this crisis for some time, with further waves an ever present danger.

“This is not a one, a two or even a three-day storm, after which we move to a recovery phase.

“The acute phase of this crisis will definitely be measured in months, and most probably in years, rather than days.”

Meanwhile, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, who also appeared before the Oireachtas committee, said there is no certainty that Ireland can keep the virus suppressed.

He said the advice of the National Public Health and Emergency Team is that restrictions are eased in a phase-based manner, while maintaining close vigilance on the spread and impact of the virus.

“This is to ensure that we can safely recommence work, social engagement, education and the day-to-day operation of the health service,” Dr Holohan added.

Mr Breslin also said that the whole health service was restricted in what it could do, which has had an impact on private hospitals.

He said that more than 280 private consultants have signed up to the contract which will see them working for the HSE through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Breslin said the Department of Health will have to review its contract with private hospitals over the coming weeks.

Dr Holohan said that the HSE is at the capacity of carrying out 100,000 tests a week and that 97% of people who were tested were receiving negative results.

He added: “Our assessment is that we believe it is needed. It’s not the only target that is important. It’s also the test turnaround.

“There is a fixation on 100,000 tests but it needs to be fluid.”

Asked how many members are currently on the NPHET team, Dr Holohan said that it has grown with the state’s needs.

“We co-opted people along the way,” he added.

Dr Holohan was urged to publish updated minutes of NPHET’s meeting.

“The challenge of keeping up to date with the administrative tasks is significant,” Dr Holohan added.

Sinn Fein’s Louise O’Reilly questioned whether people who are returning to work as part of phase one will be tested.

“It has struck me that some of the measures have been reactive rather than proactive and in this time I would have thought that you would have used the time on pause to make preparations for reopening the economy,” Ms O’Reilly added.

Dr Holohan said: “Any decision in relation to testing and its role in a particular occupational setting will be taken on a public health assessment at a point in time if that’s something that’s valuable and worth doing.

“But it won’t necessarily be the case that particular occupational groups will be subject to a sweep of testing, unless there’s a public health rationale.

“That might arise at a point in time.”

PA