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HSE confident it will be able to carry out 100,000 Covid-19 tests per week by mid-May

A roadmap devised by the HSE and the Department of Health is to go before members of the Cabinet this week.

HSE CEO Paul Reid at a briefing this morning.
HSE CEO Paul Reid at a briefing this morning.
Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

THE HSE HAS today insisted it is confident Covid-19 testing capacity will reach 100,000 tests per week, if needed, by the third week in May. 

A roadmap to increase testing capacity was devised by the National Public Health Emergency Team and the HSE this week and will go before Cabinet for approval next week.

It comes on the back of promises in recent weeks that the testing capacity will be significantly ramped up, but follows shortcomings in the testing and turnaround time for results on tests which took place at the beginning of April.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has insisted the Covid-19 restrictions can only be lifted if a robust testing and contact-tracing process is in place. 

Speaking at a briefing this morning, CEO of the HSE, Paul Reid, said that the roadmap plans to increase testing from 10,000 tests per day, to 12,000 per day and eventually 15,000 tests per day by the third week in May. 

“Over the work of the past few weeks and in particular the intense work over the past week, we have developed a model which will bring us over the next three weeks to be in a position to scale up and to deliver over 100,000 tests per week,” he said. 

“This has been formally agreed with senior officials, the Secretary General of the Department of Health and it sets out a map over the coming weeks to get us to that capacity level.”

Testing is currently being carried out at 47 centres around the country and processing is taking place at 27 labs, with some tests also going to Germany for processing. 

‘War zone’

With the expectation that the Covid-19 virus will be with us for several more months into years, Reid said a long-term strategy for testing is essential to support the healthcare system and patients within it. 

“The model we have put in place, as described a few times, has been a type of war zone model. We put all the elements together, we’re going to maximise efficiency and we’re going to increase it’s volume. 

“Looking forward to the future for the next two, three, five years, we’re going to have build a new model, it’s going to have to be a national infrastructure, driven by the HSE and run by the HSE… That will mean a much more integrated lab oversight, a more sustainable process around contact tracing.”

A new contact tracing app is also set to be up and running by the end of May to support efforts for a long-term testing and tracing model.

It will track the travel pattern of people and will be opt-in. Thos who opt-in to the app will be notified if they have been in contact with others who have been diagnosed with Covid-19, and they can self-isolate and be put forward for testing if deemed necessary.

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Discussions are ongoing around data privacy concerns between the HSE, the Government and the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner. 

Earlier this week, the NPHET cautioned that a testing capacity of 100,000 per week may not be possible, while Health Minister Simon Harris suggested that there may not be a need for upwards of 10,000 tests to be carried out daily. 

It prompted concerns that officials from the HSE and the Department of Health were at odds with each other, and that tensions were mounting between the two parties involved with delivering a national response to the pandemic. 

Harris quashed those concerns saying collaboration between the two has never been better, while this morning Paul Reid said there is a “constructive tension” at present. 

“I would be naive in the extreme to think there would never be tensions between HSE and the Department of Health – they are very constructive tensions – but what we have achieved in Covid-19, working together, has been phenomenal.

“My concerns were that we carry out a detailed process review with a whole end-to-end process and where can we maximise efficiencies in terms of turnaround, and how can scale up labs to sufficient capacity.” 

He said the tensions between the Department and the HSE centred around turnaround times to get to 100,000 tests per week, and timings to put in place initiatives around that, but insisted that in the past week the shared proposal has been agreed and it is a framework to get to 100,000 per week by the third week in May. 

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