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Problem with schools helpline that prevented antigens being registered is fixed, HSE says

Principals first raised the issue on social media, saying that they were unable to register positive antigen tests with the hotline.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE HEALTH SERVICE has apologised for an issue with the HSE principals helpline, which prevented principals from registering Covid-19 cases within schools unless they were confirmed with a PCR test.

The helpline, which was established to provide public health advice and record data on Covid-19 cases and outbreaks in schools, is in operation for principals seven days a week.

Issues around registering positive Covid-19 cases were first highlighted by principals on social media.

Several raised that they were unable to register positive antigen tests, and that Covid-19 cases and outbreaks in schools needed to be confirmed with PCR tests.

One principal said that they contacted the helpline due to several cases of the virus in their school, but were told that the helpline would only be able to record the details of children who had tested positive on a PCR test.

The current testing regime in Ireland requires anyone between the age of 4 and 39 to take an antigen test if they are experiencing symptoms of Covid-19. Those within that age cohort are no longer required to also seek a confirmatory PCR.

People in the 4 to 39 years old age cohort can still receive a PCR if advised by a doctor however.

Currently, only children from three months to three years of age and people over 40 are able to access PCR testing.

This guidance was introduced in recent weeks in part to ease pressure on the PCR system, which was overwhelmed with demand over the New Year period and in recent weeks.

In a statement to The Journal, the HSE said that the helpline had been updated to allow principals to inform the health service of positive antigen tests reported in schools.

“It [Principals helpline] has now been updated to enable principals to advise of antigen-positive cases, along with PCR positive cases, which are referred to the Regional Departments of Public Health,” said a spokesperson for the HSE.

“The HSE apologises for any inconvenience caused.

“Parents/Guardians are encouraged to register their child’s antigen-positive result on the HSE portal. Once registered, cases (antigen-positive) access the National Contact Tracing programme.”

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said that there are other issues with the hotline, including that principals are unable to get through to the line.

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“The principals’ phone helpline, set up for the very reason of supporting school leaders, is just not accessible enough. Many principals are finding they can’t get through, and are waiting over 24 hours to get a call back,” said Ó Laoghaire.

“Allowing ambiguity over the extent of Covid in our schools helps no one. Parents need to know where there are cases, so that they can take all the precautions necessary to keep their family safe.”

He called on Minister for Education, Norma Foley to take action and further resource the helpline.

“The Minister needs to show leadership here, to properly resource the Principals’ Helpline and portal and to review the recording of Covid cases in schools as a matter of urgency.”

The Journal has contacted the Department of Education for comment, but none had been received at the time of publication

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