Harris u-turn on contact tracing after being presented with further information

In Health, News by Denis Naughten

Minister Simon Harris has this afternoon (Thursday) acknowledged that he shares concerns raised by Denis Naughten regarding the contact tracing system. As a result, the Minister has ordered an urgent examination of these concerns regarding Covid infection in the meat & nursing home sectors.

“I welcome the fact that Minister Harris has reversed his position on the disclosure of medical test results to employers and is now seeking an explanation from the Department of Health & the HSE,” stated Denis Naughten.

“In my response to Minister Harris last Monday afternoon I took issue with six points made in his letter earlier that day justifying the disclosure of personal medical information to employers, even before employees received the results.

“This has led to a welcome u-turn by the Minister and I hope this will now commence a process of reviewing every aspect of the current infection management and contact tracing system which in its current format is doomed to failure.”

Denis Naughten pointed out that the correspondence from the Minister now begs further questions:

  • Why was the decision taken to provide results to employers instead of contacting employees directly as all subjects of mass testing were asked to provide a contact number?
  • Who made the decision?
  • Did this happen in all settings in which mass testing occurred?
  • Were results provided to employers even where employees were contacted by the HSE?
  • Have the data subjects all been informed now by the HSE that sensitive health data about them was provided to their employer & details of how this data was processed?

“I hope that Minister Harris will address these questions on the floor of Dáil Éireann later this afternoon,” concluded Denis Naughten.



Editors note: Todays correspondence 21st May – Deputy Denis Naughten

Mondays reply below


18 May 2020


Deputy Denis Naughten T.D.



Dear Deputy




Thank you for forwarding details of issues that have been raised with you in relation to the communication of results of COVID-19 tests in meat processing plants and nursing homes.


The HSE has informed the Department that in order to ensure that control measures for outbreaks are put in place quickly, the Departments of Public Health have issued in some instances results to the managers of meat processing plants to ensure that the Medical Officer of Health is complying with their legislative responsibility.  The manager of each plant has a responsibility to manage their service, ensure effective cohorting and ensure that infectious staff are not at work and potentially spreading infection.


In certain situations (e.g. where mass screening has been arranged and a significant number of positive results for employees come through in a single batch), it has been necessary in the interests of public health to convey results of cases confirmed COVID-19 to the management of the plant to ensure the workers quickly can be sent home from the factory floor for their own health and that of their fellow employees. Employees with confirmed COVID-19 also receive a phone call from Departments of Public Health or the HSE Contact Management Programme (CMP) detailing what they need to do in response to their diagnosis including self-isolation and self-care.


The HSE has informed the Department that in the case of ‘A MEAT PLANT’ in ‘A TOWN’ the results of tests from testing sessions conducted on the 22 April and 30 April, that the results for these tests were notified to the individuals themselves who then informed ‘A MEAT PLANT’.  If there were any outstanding positive results that ‘A MEAT PLANT’ were not aware of the HSE shared those results with the ‘A MEAT PLANT’ Occupational Health doctor. The doctor then arranged follow up of those specific cases. For those with negative results the HSE arranged for staff to be informed by sharing the results with the occupational health doctor who was able to inform the staff members.


In relation to the recent programme of mass testing in nursing homes, HSE has advised that in the majority of cases, Departments of Public Health contacted healthcare workers directly to inform them of a positive test result. However, they also advise that in some cases due to missing contact information and the volume of results, some results were communicated directly to management to enable the facility to take prompt action.


I would like to assure you that the Department is continuing to engage with the HSE on these issues to ensure appropriate communication protocols and processes are in place and adhered to for all COVID-19 testing.


Once again, thank you for raising these issues with me.


Yours sincerely


Simon Harris T.D.


Minister for Health