Covid-19: Getting patients to text close contacts will allow system to 'reset', says HSE

"What this allows our centres to do is to deal with the most recent cases and effectively hit a reset button to help us get ahead of the disease again"
Covid-19: Getting patients to text close contacts will allow system to 'reset', says HSE

HSE’s national lead for contact tracing, Niamh O'Beirne: “Over the weekend we did not have enough staff to deal with demand and that's what created the backlog of cases we're trying to deal with." File image. Picture: Pexels

The HSE’s national lead for contact tracing, Niamh O'Beirne has said that instructing patients who tested positive for Covid-19 forward a text to their own contacts would allow the system to “hit a reset button” to get ahead of the disease again.

She said: "Over the week we simply couldn't get to everyone. 

"Whilst not ideal, we are sending a text today to everyone that we didn't manage to get to. 

We're asking them to forward that text to their close contacts. 

Ms O’Beirne told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that the text would go to anybody tested on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. 

“Importantly what this allows our centres to do is to deal with the most recent cases and effectively hit a reset button to help us get ahead of the disease again.” 

It's not ideal, but it's really important with the speed of the disease at the moment that we deal with the most recent cases, that we try to get ahead.

Ms O’Beirne said that 70 additional staff were being employed every week while interviews were ongoing. 

She said the aim was to try to get ahead of demand and to have the capacity to deal with 1500 cases per day needed.

“Over the weekend we did not have enough staff to deal with demand and that's what created the backlog of cases we're trying to deal with.

Ms O'Berine said the HSE will continue to send information and links to everyone they contact.

"Anyone who has difficulty understanding any aspect is welcome to contact the service," she said

Ms O'Berine's comments come amid reports of a significant increase in calls from close contacts of positive cases in recent days.

The HSE earlier confirmed it could not successfully contact close contacts of positive cases this past weekend, because the contact tracing system was beset by calls.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said the influx of calls was putting "extreme pressure" on public health professionals and on the contact tracing system in general.

In a letter to GPs, IMO chair Dr Denis McCauley said public health teams have been so inundated with calls that health professionals are struggling to "respond quickly" to close contacts.

The letter said the issue is “a short term” one which IMO hopes will be resolved “within the next week or 10 days.” 

In the interim, the IMO has asked GPs to assist in the testing referral process for patients self-identifying as close contacts.

The IMO said the move is "necessary at this time, given the surge across all communities”.

Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, described the contact tracing issue as 'disappointing' but said asking patients to call their own contacts was the right thing to do given the circumstances.

Prefacing the details of their recommendation to GPs, the IMO stressed that "under no circumstances are GPs being asked to undertake any contact tracing or to identify patients who fall into this category."

It is absolutely recognised that public health are experts in contact tracing and there is no role for GPs in that process.

GPs have been asked to assist in cases where a patient proactively contacts a practice and has not yet been contacted by public health, despite having been advised they are a close contact, and in cases where patients have been directed to contact their GP by the HSE.

The letter states that, for these patients, whether they are symptomatic or not the GP should:

  • Refer for a test and give advice on the need to self-isolate for 14 days;
  • When the test result comes through, contact the patient and follow public health advice regarding isolation, depending on whether the test is positive or negative

The IMO letter also states that there is "no requirement to undertake contact tracing that remains within the remit of public health and patient can be advised accordingly."

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