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Covid cock-up Contact tracing fiasco 'won’t happen again,' says Health Minister

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the breakdown in HSE's contact tracing system "should never have happened."

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Health minister Stephen Donnelly (Niall Carson/PA)

Health minister Stephen Donnelly (Niall Carson/PA)

Health minister Stephen Donnelly (Niall Carson/PA)

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said he has been assured that the HSE's latest contact tracing fiasco "won't happen again."

Minister Donnelly said this morning that the "operational decision" to ask all positive cases to inform their own close contacts was made by contact tracers because the health service was overwhelmed.

Contact tracers were so swamped at the weekend that between 2,000 and 2,500 people who tested positive were asked by text message to conduct their own tracing.

The Minister said it "shouldn't have happened" but that the contact tracing system has "absolutely not" fallen down.

“What happened was that the contact tracing teams were being ramped up very quickly," Mr Donnelly said.

“In the last six weeks they are making 400 pc more calls than they did. They took an operational decision on Monday. They said that over the weekend, demand did outstrip supply for three days.

"So, in a one-off batch they texted people and said here is the text that you send to your own close contacts and then work with the GPs so that they could have those test referrals.

“In an ideal world that wouldn't happen, and I have no problem apologising to them and I have spoken to some of them and of course they were distressed.”

The Minister added that additional resource have been put in place to ensure this "won't happen again."

HSE Chief Paul Reid apologised to those asked to trace their own contacts and said it was a "concerning" development for the HSE.

He said he takes "full responsibility" for not informing Minister Donnelly of the decision.

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Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid (Photocall Ireland/PA)

Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid (Photocall Ireland/PA)

Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid (Photocall Ireland/PA)

"It was a risk based decision we had to make. One thing I always take cognisance of, I said at the very start of this pandemic to Oireachtas members, to Cabinet committees, we will get 70pc of decisions right and sometimes 30pc of them won't be right.

"But the most important thing we do is that we make decisions," he told RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne.

"If you wait for perfection you won't stay on top of things. In terms of the weekend, I want to acknowledge the 70pc factor of the decision was right, we had to make that operational decision that we had to make on Tuesday.

"The 30pc factor that we caused a lot of angst for politicians, for the Minister, for the Taoiseach in the last couple of days was that they weren't notified until Tuesday evening and I acknowledge that and I take full responsibility for that.

"It's an unfortunate situation. I regret that it happened but there are big calls we are going to have to make as we move through this process."

Meanwhile, the Department of Health reported three additional deaths linked to Covid-19 and 1,167 new cases yesterday.

Some 263 of the cases were in Dublin, 142 in Meath, 137 in Cork and 86 in Cavan, which remains the county with the worst fourteen day incidence.

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