HSE to admit suspension of contact tracing system was 'not ideal'

A HSE delegation, led by Niamh O’Beirne, the National Lead for Testing & Tracing, will appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee
HSE to admit suspension of contact tracing system was 'not ideal'

HSE CEO Paul Reid alongside HSE clinical lead for testing Niamh O'Beirne

The HSE will on Wednesday apologise for the impact of standing down of its contact tracing system two weekends ago, admitting the situation was “not ideal”.

A HSE delegation, led by Niamh O’Beirne, the National Lead for Testing & Tracing, will appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee.

In her opening statement, seen by the Irish Examiner, Ms O’Beirne will say the significant increase in demand and the number of detected cases in its community in October has challenged health systems, particularly the contact tracing service.

“The rapid rise in cases in early October exceeded the capacity of our tracing system as it was set up. 

"For context, six weeks ago we were making 8,500 calls a week and this increased in the last week to over 38,000 calls and we struggled with capacity,” she will say.

“In response to this and in a continuing effort to maintain effective turnaround times for contact tracing for the population at large, we asked a limited number of people (1,971) who received a positive result from October 16th or October 18th to notify their own close contacts of their result and arrange a test through their GP.

“The decision was taken to ensure that each person receives information as quickly as possible, allowing them to be aware of their status and to take action to care for themselves, and protect others from infection,” she will add.

While this was clearly not ideal and we appreciate the impact on those affected, it was deemed to be the only viable option in order to deal with the most recent cases quickly and reset the system. 

"We apologise to the 1971 people impacted and are this week going to call everyone we missed to check they were able to identify contacts and advise them to be tested,” she will say.

Since last Friday, the contact tracing system is back on track and achieving its metric of all close contacts being contacted within 24 hours of the notification of the positive case, TDs will hear.

She will say to ensure it can meet future demand, the HSE is continuing to recruit additional contact tracers.

“Over 800 people are through the interview process, 274 new staff have been taken on board to date, with a further 90 staff expected to be on board by the end of this week. 

"We will continue bringing in 60-70 new staff to the service every week over the coming period. The HSE plans to recruit up to 800 tracers, and then review the requirement for further recruitment,” she will say.

To date, the HSE says it has established a system that has enabled us to complete over 1.54 million tests, identified 58,067 detected cases and completed 258,230 contact tracing calls. Last week (Saturday 17th – Friday 23rd of October) it says it processed over 115,000 tests, exceeding the capacity set out by 15%.

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