Children and adults in need of help with speech, eating, drinking and swallowing are on lengthening waiting lists while their therapists have been switched by the HSE to carry out swabbing and Covid-19 contact tracing.
Hundreds of public servants, including speech and language therapists, are seconded to swabbing and contact tracing duties, leaving already under-resourced areas struggling. The deployment of much needed specialists was raised by Roscommon Independent TD Denis Naughten as HSE officials appeared before the Oireachtas health committee to be quizzed about its testing and tracing system.
Niamh O’Beirne, the HSE’s national lead for testing and tracing, said the aim is to have a permanent swabbing and contact tracing workforce and allow seconded staff to return to their jobs, but it will take several weeks to do this. Around 25 therapists are doing contact tracing and 800 staff from other parts of the public service are involved in taking swab samples from people who might have the virus.
Earlier, she apologised to the 1,971 people who tested positive from October 16 to 18 and had to inform their own contacts because HSE teams were swamped. “Since Friday, October 23, our contact tracing system is back on track and achieving its metric of all close contacts being contacted within 24 hours of the notification of the positive case.” The committee was told that the HSE plans to recruit up to 800 contact tracers, with 60 to 70 new staff to be brought in every week. Social Democrat TD Róisín Shortall asked why it took so long for additional staff to be hired when it was clear in the summer there was a potential surge in Covid-19 ahead. Ms O’Beirne said the recruitment process began in August. The initial jump in cases was seen over the August bank holiday weekend and this was managed through the HSE’s escalation plan.
The committee also heard that a small but significant number of parents are refusing to get their children tested for Covid-19 when they are phoned by HSE contact tracers. HSE public health specialist Dr Kevin Kelleher said people can be very unhappy when told they are a contact of a person who has tested positive and that they must restrict their movements. “It is a surprise and not what they want to hear,” he added. A small number can get very angry, he said in response to Fianna Fáil TD John Lahart. “There is a significant, very small group of parents who refuse to get their child tested and are very unhappy as a consequence of this process.”
Source: Irish News