HSE chief apologises over breakdown in Covid-19 contract-tracing system
Paul Reid made the comments hours after Ireland entered a second lockdown.
The HSE chief executive has apologised to 2,000 people for asking them to notify their own close contacts after testing positive for Covid-19 due to a breakdown in the contact-tracing system.
Paul Reid defended the way the HSE handled the matter, saying it had to make decisions “rapidly and quickly” to stay ahead of the virus.
He admitted the Government should have been informed and said he “took responsibility” for not doing so.
Mr Reid said: “I personally, and on behalf of the HSE, apologise to those 2,000 people.
“It wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly but it was the right decision.
“It was a decision based on a clinical, an operational and a risk-based assessment of what was the right thing to do at that point of time as Monday moved into Tuesday and we were faced with a backlog with those number of cases.”
He made the comments at a HSE briefing on Thursday afternoon hours after Ireland entered its second lockdown in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus.
Pressure is mounting on political leaders over the country’s testing and tracing regime.
Our Contact Tracing teams are working 7 days a week making approx 5,000 calls a day. Today alone we referred 2,500 close contacts for tests. We made over 23 thousand contact tracing calls this week. Please reduce your social contacts to help stop the spread of #COVID19 #ThankYou pic.twitter.com/qNbQ8s4oKZ— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) October 16, 2020
It emerged earlier this week that the system had come under too much pressure at the weekend and about 2,000 who tested positive for coronavirus would not be contacted by the HSE’s contact tracing team.
Instead they had to tell their close contacts to arrange their own test through their GP.
Mr Reid blamed a “scheduling issue” for the backlog and said the health service was also dealing with increased volumes of calls and that those calls had become more complex and longer in duration.
He said: “We did not have enough people to cope with the rapid acceleration of cases that we saw on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.”
He added: “We are dealing and have been dealing with a pandemic that is practically out of control in the community and when it gets out of control it has significant impacts on the wider health service overall.”
Taoiseach Micheal Martin and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly only became aware of a breakdown in the contact-tracing system when it was reported in the media.
Mr Reid said: “Keeping the politicians, particularly the minister and the Taoiseach, advised of the quick pace we were dealing with this issue was something that didn’t work as it should and I take responsibility for that.”
Mr Martin said he was annoyed he had not been informed of the issue but that he understood the pressure the health service was under.
“Whilst I was annoyed with what happened, I was also annoyed with not having been told about it directly, at the same time I would like to acknowledge that people are working under great stress and strain at all levels since the pandemic began,” he said.
Earlier Mr Donnelly said that his department should have been told by the HSE.
“There are numerous ways in which Government could have been told. I am in contact with multiple people in the HSE on an ongoing basis and so are people in the department,” he told RTE’s Morning Ireland programme on Thursday.
“This was an operational decision taken by the HSE on a Monday, but let’s be clear, people are incorrectly saying the contact tracing system has fallen down, it absolutely hasn’t.
“What happened was the contact-tracing teams are being ramped up very quickly.
“In the last six weeks they are now making 400% more calls than they did.”
He said he had been assured by the HSE the incident will not happen again.
Mr Donnelly has also written to the HSE for a full report on the contracts of contact tracers after People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said that workers are being offered zero-hour contracts.
On Thursday, Ireland became the first country in Europe to reimpose a nationwide lockdown in an effort to tackle the record number of cases over recent weeks.
The strict measures will remain in place until December 1.
Hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters took part in a rally in Dublin to coincide with the start of the new restrictions.
The campaigners marched through parts of the city in protest against the health measures.
Many carried placards and signs opposing the lockdown, while others waved Irish flags.
Some held signs calling for an end to the lockdown and no “forced vaccines”.
Some of the protesters covered their faces with hoods and scarves while a few of the campaigners wore masks.
Eleven people were arrested for alleged public order offences after gardai intervened when protesters were asked to disperse but refused.
Under the new restrictions, people are urged to stay at home and exercise within a five-kilometre radius of their homes. Only schools, creches and essential retail remain open.
No social or family gatherings are allowed in homes or gardens but visits on compassionate grounds and for caring purposes can continue.
People from one household can meet another household in an outdoors setting such as a park.
A total of 25 people can attend weddings and funerals.
Restaurants, cafes and bars are permitted to provide takeaway or delivery services only. They are no longer allowed to provide outdoor dining.
Hairdressers, barbers, salons and gyms are not allowed to operate but elite sports training and senior inter-county Gaelic games can continue.
More than 2,500 gardai will be on duty at any one time to ensure compliance with the public health guidelines.
They have introduced a range of measures including checkpoints and high-visibility patrols to coincide with the imposition of level-five measures.
Motorists experienced long delays near the border as gardai carried out checks on Thursday.
A checkpoint was set up near Carrickdale roundabout between Newry and Dundalk to ask people the reason for their journey. It created long tailbacks along the motorway.
New penalties will be introduced for breaching the measures.
These include on the spot fines of up to 500 euro for not wearing face masks and fines of up to 1,000 euros and/or up to one month in prison for someone who hosts or attends a party.
The new laws are expected to come into effect within days.