Government under fire over contact tracing 'collapse'

GPs and the opposition has criticised the government for 'dropping the ball' on contact tracing.
Government under fire over contact tracing 'collapse'

Sending texts asking people to inform close contacts 'undermines' the contact tracing system, says Dr Maitiu O Tuathail outside Ranelagh Medical where he works as a GP. Picture: Moya Nolan

The Government have been accused of "dropping the ball" in not employing enough staff which has led to a "collapse" in the contact tracing system.

Serious delays in employing up to 1,500 qualified people who signed up to the 'Be on Call for Ireland initiative' have been blamed, with both GPs and opposition members hitting out at the breakdown in contact tracing in recent days.

It comes as people who received a positive Covid-19 test result last weekend will now be asked to alert their own close contacts due to unprecedented pressure on the system.

Dr Illona Duffy said GPs who applied "months ago" to work as contact tracers are still waiting to be employed.

"I talked to GPs earlier this week who had volunteered to be contact trades with people who either work part-time or were semi-retired. They volunteered months ago and they're still going through the process, one GP told me that she's still filling in the forums and was asked for her Leaving Cert results.

"Now, how ridiculous is that and how bureaucratic is that?" the Monaghan-based GP asked.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane said the Government had wasted the summer months in not recruiting enough contact tracers.

"There are almost 1500 people still waiting for a place through Be on Call while specialist physiotherapists, who provide stroke rehabilitation, and speech and language therapists, who work with children and adults with communication difficulties, and still deployed in testing or tracing," he said.

Mr Cullinane said many people who signed up for the Be on Call for Ireland initiative are still waiting to be deployed, this includes 64 medical laboratory aides, 264 nurses and midwives, 264 doctors and 62 clerical officers.

The Government had five months to get us prepared for the second wave and have clearly dropped the ball.

"There are hundreds more non-healthcare workers, and many who have lost jobs due to the pandemic, who are willing and want to work in contact tracing.

"Government has moved far too slowly in stepping up contact tracing and has left us exposed."

He said outbreaks have and will be missed as a result of failures in the contact tracing system.

More than 3,000 Covid-19 cases were confirmed over the weekend and these people were notified by text.

These patients will now receive a text today asking them to inform the people they were in contact with as the usual system is under significant pressure.

Dr Maitiu Ó Tuathail said simply sending out texts to people asking them to inform their close contacts "undermines" the entire contact tracing system and "makes a mockery of the whole thing".

"This will lead to an enormous increase in demand for Covid-19 testing, which I feel may overwhelm the system.

"We have a contact tracing system at the moment that has collapsed and GPs have been reporting that for the last few few days we've noticed that the testing system has held up but contact tracing really has collapsed and my concern is now that like a domino effect this will lead to a collapse of the testing system," he told RTÉ's Claire Byrne programme.

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