Minister of State Ossian Smyth has said the system for querying details on EU Digital Covid Certificate should have been through an online portal from the start.
“A call centre is very much an idea from the past,” he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne.
When it was pointed out that he was the Minister of State responsible for eGovernment, Mr Smyth said: “I'm not in charge, the Department of Health is.”
Mr Smyth said he was “extremely keen” to bring in a system whereby “you can log on to the HSE and access some of your medical data, which you can do with the Department of Social Protection, Revenue, you can do it in departments all across government.”
He pointed out that the Department of Health had doubled the number of people answering calls to the call centre. “Every day they're clearing thousands of a backlog, we started at 160,000 backlog, we're down to 90,000 – they're getting through 8,000 a day, so we're reaching a point where we have a complete medical record of everybody who has been vaccinated, which is absolutely amazing.”
Mr Smyth acknowledged there was a problem with how long people were waiting for their calls to be answered, but this was a short term problem until the backlog was cleared, he said. “What we have in place is a system that is working for the future, the backlog is being cleared.”
The helpline had been overloaded, he added. “No Irish citizen should have to wait hours on the phone to get a service from the Government, in this case obtaining their medical records from the Department of Health.
“I apologise to everyone who has had to wait. I can see that in a lot of cases those people are getting ready to go on a foreign trip, it’s stressful enough as it is, they're trying to line everything up and they're not getting their medical record that they're entitled to. That's not acceptable.
“We sent out 2.5 million certs, and when you do something 2.5 million times, sometimes there are exceptions, so the level at this stage I think is three per cent of people who didn't get their cert and there's two big reasons for that.
“One is that they've moved home or that they've changed email address – or more likely that the data was never sent up or wasn't sent accurately from wherever they were vaccinated, it didn't make it or it got lost in the ransomware attack and finally there's a category of people who have a different name that they use on their passport from the name that they use commonly, as they go around in life.
“This is very common in Ireland, they're christened one name, you go by another, or you like to use the Irish version of your name.”
Mr Smyth said that the digital certificate was the most complete medical record in Ireland. “For the first time as a result of the vaccination programme we've managed to reach nearly everybody in the country and we actually have all of the medical information, a small amount of medical information relating to each person in one central system for the first time.
“The Department of Health has attempted to send out medical records to everybody in the country who has been vaccinated, as a result of that those people whose data didn't make it back from their medical professional is showing up and that record is an ongoing problem for the future – those records are actually being corrected and I am really delighted that what we're going to have is a complete medical record online.”