HSE apologises for failures in contact tracing system

HSE apologises for failures in contact tracing system

Niamh O'Beirne, national lead for testing and tracing at the HSE, told the Oireachtas health committee: "We apologise to the 1,971 people impacted and are this week going to call everyone we missed to check they were able to identify contacts and advise them to be tested."

The HSE has apologised for asking almost 2,000 people who received a positive Covid-19 result to notify their own close contacts due to a breakdown in its contact tracing system.

Niamh O'Beirne, national lead for testing and tracing at the HSE, told the Oireachtas health committee that the decision was taken to ensure that each person was informed "as quickly as possible" and to allow them to be "aware of their status and to take action to care for themselves, and protect others from infection".

"While this was clearly not ideal and we appreciate the impact on those affected, it was deemed to be the only viable option in order to deal with the most recent cases quickly and reset the system," she said.

"We apologise to the 1,971 people impacted and are this week going to call everyone we missed to check they were able to identify contacts and advise them to be tested."

The group were asked to tell their own close contacts that they should arrange a test through their GPs to check their own infection status.

Niamh O'Beirne said the contact tracing system was "back on track" since October 23 and that all close contacts were being informed within 24 hours of the notification of a positive case.

She said the HSE plans to recruit up to 800 contact tracers "to ensure that we can address future demand".

At that point, she added, the health service would review the requirement for further recruitment.

"Over 800 people are through the interview process, 274 new staff have been taken on board to date, with a further 90 staff expected to be on board by the end of this week," Ms O'Beirne told the committee.

"We will continue bringing in 60-70 new staff to the service every week over the coming period."

Ms O'Beirne said the rapid rise in coronavirus cases earlier this month had "exceeded the capacity" of the Irish tracing system.

"Six weeks ago we were making 8,500 calls a week and this increased in the last week to over 38,000 calls and we struggled with capacity," she said.

She added that to "maintain effective turnaround times" for the population at large they had made the decision to ask people to make their own contact tracing calls.

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