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HSE looks at using naval ships as it scales up coronavirus testing across the country

Officials have asked people to be patient as they work through the backlog and roll out additional resources.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

THE HSE IS continuing to expand on its Covid-19 testing capabilities, with tens of thousands of people calling to seek a test for the virus.

At today’s HSE briefing, officials urged people not to call the emergency line 112/999, warning that over the weekend people were “clogging up” the service.

“This is a real concern for us,” HSE CEO Paul Reid said.

He urged the public to instead contact their GPs by phone. A new online system which went live yesterday allows GPs to arrange tests for patients after they have assessed their symptoms. The system crashed when it first went live but HSE officials said today that this “glitch” had now been fixed.

There is currently a delay of several days for testing as healthcare staff work through the backlog. After the HSE widened the criteria for testing last week, there was a huge surge in calls and requests for testing.

Reid said the HSE’s call centre, which would usually handle 500 calls a day, received 124,000 calls on Saturday alone. 

To expand their capabilities, Reid said a number of options for both testing and self-isolation facilities are being looked at, including the use of naval ships as testing centres.

Officials pointed out that members of the Irish Navy have “considerable experience” with this kind of work in the Mediterranean and would be well equipped to handle it.

By the end of this week more than ten hospitals across the country will be processing the tests. There are now 19 community testing centres in operation around the country - Croke Park is now being used as a drive-through testing centre. 

More are being added to this, including schools, garda stations and community halls. 

In the meantime, HSE officials are asking people to be patient as they roll out additional resources and to self-isolate while they wait for their tests and their results – even if this is for a number of days. 

Reid also gave an update on procurement, telling reporters that a “very significant” contract for personal protection equipment (PPE) is in the final stages. He said this would involve a large order that would be delivered every ten days.

The HSE has already secured 300 additional ventilators, with more than 100 each week to be added to this number. Discussions are also taking place with private hospital groups about how their capacity could be used.

Anne O’Connor, Chief Operations Officer for the HSE said it is a possibility that the country will run out of tests this week but a delivery of 30,000 swab tests is due on Thursday, with further deliveries to follow as testing continues.

Dr Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer, said it is important for the general public to understand that there is “no value” in testing someone who is worried but is showing no symptoms. 

He said testing people who have no symptoms would “deplete a valuable resource”. 

O’Connor said the next step for the HSE will be to establish what she described as “community assessment hubs”, where patients who have a confirmed Covid-19 diagnosis can be assessed if their symptoms get worse while they are recovering at home in self-isolation.

The aim will be to keep as many people as possible out of the acute hospital setting.

This, similar to the testing, will be an appointment based system – they will not be walk-in clinics. 

“We don’t want anyone going anywhere without an appointment,” O’Connor said.

“When you are referred for a test, you receive a message with a date, time and location of a test centre. Please do not turn up anywhere without an appointment, you won’t be seen.”

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