The HSE’s target turnaround time for end-to-end Covid-19 testing should be “at most” one day, an Oireachtas report has urged.
The Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response has also called for the introduction of temperature screening for everyone coming into the State, and to have all healthcare workers regularly tested to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
The recommendations are among 22 made in the committee's interim testing and tracing report.
Committee chairman, Michael McNamara, said several new testing and tracing measures that will be introduced later this month will have to be kept under review.
Mr McNamara said the committee understood that the system put in place in March was done in a hurry and a lot of contingency measures had to be taken given the risk of a pandemic sweeping the State.
“Because of the efforts of all our people, those measures were not needed, but what became clear to the committee is that another lockdown would be unsustainable,” he said.
“Testing and contact tracing will allow the State to live with and treat outbreaks of Covid-19 as they arise.”
The report warns there is a serious risk that hospital overcrowding could undermine efforts to contain the virus. Hospital capacity needs to be addressed within the HSE's test and trace plan, and any investment that can help resolve the issue should be deployed.
The report also warns that the test and trace system is facing two “severe stress tests” in the coming months - travel into and within the State, and the flu season.
“We will need a system that has the capacity to deal with a sudden surge in demand which will happen if we get a flu epidemic in the autumn, given the overlap on symptoms between the flu and Covid-19, and our already overcrowded hospitals and accident and emergency departments,” said Mr McNamara.
Unpreparedness for a resurgence of Covid-19 will also increase the risk of people attending for other treatments contracting Covid-19.
“Hospital overcrowding, which will aid the spread of infection, is a real risk. Ireland’s comparatively low healthcare capacity makes robust testing and tracing particularly important for this state,” the report warned.
In addition, the report said a “more vigorous” response from the State is needed to ensure contacts of confirmed cases are being tested for the virus and that this is understood to be a mandatory public health responsibility. Also, mandatory quarantine upon entry into the State from overseas should be more closely monitored.
Ensuring a sufficient supply of testing equipment should remain a priority and the dangers of unofficial, private tests that may not be reliable and give false confidence should be emphasised in messaging to the public, while the committee also wants an ongoing assessment of the HSE's Covid tracking app and whether it is adding value to test and trace efforts.
Also, data about infections – including geographical and demographic information – should be published as quickly as possible.