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HSE chief: We can expect and should plan for further waves of Covid-19

Paul Reid is appearing in front of the Special Covid-19 Committee today to discuss the country’s testing systems.

Image: Leon Farrell

HSE BOSS PAUL Reid will tell the Special Covid-19 Committee today that Ireland is meeting testing demands.

To date, over 1.12 million tests have been completed, with 87,940 tests carried out last week. 

While there have been criticisms recently in relation to testing and tracing capacity, Reid will tell committee members that over 15,381 contact tracing calls were made last week – the highest number to date.

The median end-to-end turnaround time in community settings over the past
seven days is two days, 90% of people tested in the community receiving their
result within that timeframe.

  • Read more here on how you can support a major Noteworthy project to find out if the Irish health system will be better prepared for the next health emergency.

 For community tests, there is a median of 1.2 days from swab taken to lab result

communicated, which Reid says in his opening statement is “well in line with other European countries”. 

In terms of surge, domestic laboratory capacity remains at over 100,000 per week, with the HSE procuring an additional surge capacity of 2,000 per day provided by a German laboratory partner.

“In order to speed up test notification periods we are also looking at additional equipment, robots, and process methodologies to increase our domestic testing capacity and turnaround,” states Reid.

Reid states that a transition to a more permanent model for testing and tracing
is currently underway.

“Recruitment is ongoing, as is engagement with our stakeholders. We are also looking at better system automation and integration,” he states.

The HSE chief executive will also tell the committee today that “it is increasingly evident that we can expect and should therefore plan for subsequent waves” of the virus.

“A difficult winter season, coupled with a resurgence in Covid-19, is the worst possible scenario for our health services,” he says.

While admissions to hospital are rising, with 108 patients admitted to
hospital with Covid-19 and 17 confirmed cases in ICU, the numbers remain relatively stable, according to the latest figures from the Health Service Executive.

Yesterday, intensive care consultant at University Hospital Limerick, Dr Catherine Motherway, called for assurance of the exact number of ICU beds available in the government’s winter plan.

A government source said that while ICU capacity is important, currently less than 10% of ICU beds are being used by Covid patients.

While Ireland and other countries across Europe are seeing a rise in cases, it is not resulting in the same impact on hospitals, they said, adding that the country has 250 ICU capacity, with flexibility to increase the number if needed.

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The source stated that with under 20 people in ICU currently, even if that number tripled it would below the April high of 100 people in ICU.

The committee will hear from Reid that even with a vaccine, “the reality is that we will be dealing with Covid-19 for a long time yet”.

“We must all adapt our way of life through a combination of behavioural, societal, and healthcare delivery changes. The HSE needs a functioning society and economy in order to thrive. Healthcare staff also know this; they continue each day to rise to the challenge,” he states.

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