- Additional reporting by Pat Flynn
Huge orders have been placed for Covid-19 testing equipment and protective gear for staff, Ireland’s top health service official has said.
The massive increase in demand is because everyone with coronavirus symptoms has been asked to self-isolate and await a check.
Almost 40,000 sample test kits are being distributed. Another 20,000 will be in Ireland by Wednesday, the health service said.
Ireland is at an advanced stage of negotiations with China to secure a further 100,000 and good progress is being made, it said.
Health Service Executive (HSE) chief executive Paul Reid said: “We are implementing this process at pace.”
The worldwide nature of the coronavirus pandemic means there is a lot of competition to secure supplies.
On Saturday night, 177 people were in Irish hospitals with Covid-19, up from 151 on Saturday morning.
A total of 11 million masks, one million face shields and one million goggles for workers are on order.
Another 400,000 gowns and suits are also being purchased.
Ireland usually spends 15 million euro a year on personal protective equipment, the health service said.
Its bill since January had already hit 60 million euro.
Plans for “field hospitals” for those less seriously ill have been put in place at hotels that have been closed due to the outbreak, the HSE said.
Templemore Garda training centre in Co Tipperary has also been made available and naval boats used for testing.
The aim is that people who are less sick can be treated outside of hospitals.
Mr Reid said: “The health system will be under stress like we have never known before.
“We are working around the clock to secure medical supplies.
“It is a very difficult worldwide market and we are making progress.”
A total of 1,200 people are involved in contact tracing positive cases and a major recruitment campaign for new staff is under way.
Around 1,000 doctors put their names forward, 200 of whom are not working in the healthcare system.
A total of 50 test centres are expected to be set up, Mr Reid said.
He added: “We have flexibility and will go to areas in need.”
Intensive care unit (ICU) capacity at hospitals has been increased and progress is also being made in getting extra ventilators.
Mr Reid's comments come as ambulance came as paramedics carrying out home testing for COVID-19 have expressed concern at the lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) available to them.
They also claimed that bottles of alcohol hand rub being dispensed to people they visit as part of a ‘home kit’, have been out of date for up to eight years.
National Ambulance Service (NAS) paramedics were seen as the best option to undertake home testing after the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Ireland.
One paramedic in the west of the country said: “We have been on the frontline of coronavirus testing from day one as part of the contact tracing procedures. We’ve been going to homes at all hours of the day and night to take swabs from people who were suspected to have had possible contact with someone with the virus.”
“We have taken this very seriously and are very proud of the work we are doing but we can’t do as much as we’d like or are being asked to do because we just don’t have enough kits (PPE). At a minimum, we need two kits anytime we visit a person. If both paramedics have to assist someone to the ambulance, by the time we’ve finished at the hospital and cleaned the ambulance, we’ve used four kits. Most of the time, we only have that many kits for a whole shift so our hands are tied,” he added.
“There is a serious shortage of PPE kits but management deny this. They say there will be more coming this week but we won’t know until that happens, if it does. We have to be concerned about our own health too and seeing paramedics in other countries wearing full body kits when we have just a mask, gloves and flimsy plastic aprons, you’d have to wonder whether what we have is even adequate,” another paramedic said.
NAS staff had raised concerns with the largest union representing paramedics while Siptu, has in turn, taken those concerns to NAS management.
It’s known that NAS management and Siptu officials held a conference call last week during which a number of issues of concern to paramedics were raised by the union.
In correspondence to members afterwards, Siptu said: "The union raised concerns re: speculation about possible PPE stock shortages going forward. Deputy Director of NAS advised that he has not been aware of any shortages and that NAS are receiving the agreed amounts of stock per area.”
In response to a series of questions, a NAS spokesperson would only say: “The National Ambulance Service (NAS) has processes and procedures in place to ensure that appropriate PPE is available for NAS staff engaging in patient care delivery.”