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Increased demand for PCR testing puts strain on HSE booking systems

The HSE has said it has capacity for about 225,000 PCR tests this week.

Updated Dec 21st 2021, 7:17 PM

AN INCREASED DEMAND for PCR testing is putting pressure on services, with some users of the HSE portal reporting that it crashed as they attempted to book a test.

The HSE has said it has capacity for about 225,000 PCR tests this week, with private operators supplementing state-run testing centres.

Capacity for testing has increased from 100,000 earlier this year, with HSE CEO Paul Reid saying it will “reach 250,000 by the end of the year”.

That capacity is being stretched ahead of Christmas and the dominance of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said people should expect a record number of cases in the coming days. 

Self-referral test booking is done through the HSE’s portal, with people eligible for a test if they have symptoms or have had a positive antigen test. 

Booking slots are grouped on a county-by-county basis and are made available 24 hours in advance.

The demand for testing has made tests difficult to book in some areas, with some users telling The Journal that they received an error message as they attempted to book a slot. 

The HSE has said that there was an issue earlier today with the booking system which “was resolved quickly”. 

In response to previous queries about testing capacity, the HSE said it monitors demand “on a continuous basis” and works to further increase capacity if required. 

The HSE has put in place additional measures over the last number of weeks to increase the level of Covid-19 testing available across our communities. This has included opening additional pop-up testing centres with the support of the National Ambulance Service and the Defence Forces, the recruitment of additional swabbing staff, and engaging private testing providers to provide testing centres on behalf of the HSE. 

The agency added: “We are continuously recruiting into our community testing service, and across the whole process there are almost 2,000 people employed”.

Speaking to The Journal, David Rock of private testing provider RocDoc said it is providing about 1,500 tests a week in Dublin and about 700 in Cork and Shannon for the HSE.

Rock says that RocDoc’s testing centres are currently “extremely busy” and that the company has, for example, “ten times more staff” on St. Stephen’s Day than normal. 

The company is only closed on Christmas Day to give staff a day off.

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“We’re absolutely inundated and the problem is people have left it so late to book as well. For this short period of time, there’s only what two three weeks where the testing numbers are quite high. It’s very hard to employ staff just for three weeks of the year, it’s similar to shops on Black Friday, you never have an enough no matter how much you put on,” Rock says.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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