Covid testing uptake in nursing homes and meat plants may be higher than HSE data shows

HSE records show over 70% of staff at nursing homes and meat plants have been tested - but this figure may be even higher in reality as staff lists are out-of-date in some areas.
Covid testing uptake in nursing homes and meat plants may be higher than HSE data shows

A swab kit for testing Covid-19. Out of date staffing lists at nursing homes and meat factories may be distorting actual figures for those that have been tested. Picture: Marc O’Sullivan

Out-of-date staffing lists for meat plants and nursing homes mean that HSE data on serial testing is not reflecting the reality on the ground.

Regular testing has been offered in these settings since August to reduce Covid-19 outbreaks.

The latest HSE data appears to show an average uptake of 73.4% in nursing homes and over 70% in meat plants — but out-of-date staff lists mean these figures are inaccurate as the booking system as former staff members and those on leave are still showing up on the booking system. 

Tadhg Daly of Nursing Homes Ireland contacted centres which appeared to have lower uptake rates, but they insisted they were testing everyone they could.

A referral system called SwiftQueue is used by centre managers to book tests — but each centre is responsible for updating their own records and overworked managers are, in some cases, not keeping these up-to-date.

A spokesperson for the HSE said former staff members are showing up on the system, contributing to the inaccurately low test rate.

“If a nursing home refers an individual for a swab to be taken who is a former staff member, then there will not be a swab completed for them," the HSE spokesperson said.

“They will then show on the system as not having a swab completed, and that will reduce the participation rate.” 

The system also does not account for staff who had Covid-19 and cannot be tested until 12 weeks have passed, they said.

Similarly, the participation rates do not take into staff on annual leave or sick leave at the time of testing. 

At one point in time, up to 2,000 staff were absent on Covid leave, with some of these potentially still listed on the booking system. 

Vaccine rollout

Meanwhile, the GP assisting with vaccine roll-out for over-85s said he 'regrets' the issues faced by some GPs but insists they will be resolved as the process ramps up.

Dr Denis McCauley,  chair of the GP committee for the Irish Medical Organisation, said all deliveries due in this final part of the 3-week opening phase of the vaccination programme will take place, although GPs will not get much notice due to the logistics surrounding delivery.

“It would be lovely to have a week’s notice, that is not happening and that I regret,” he said.

“They are getting two day’s notice. They get an indication earlier and then confirmation within two days of when they’re getting the vaccine. That is a logistical issue.” 

In normal times, GPs get a week’s notice of vaccine deliveries. But he said due to supply constraints in the chain between the HSE and cold chain operator United Drugs this is not possible.

Each practice will receive a second delivery 14 days after the first.

A system to match smaller practices with larger ones should be complete by week’s end, he said, conceding some have found it difficult to find a “buddy-practice”.

There are “active plans” to vaccinate up to 2,500 bed-bound people at home probably through the HSE ambulance service.

“This is not a logistical nightmare, this is a logistical success even if everyone does not agree with that,” he said.

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