HSE concealing contact tracing problem from Government
Denis Naughten TD has written to Minister Simon Harris seeking the contact tracing figures for each meat plant across the country, after the figures he presented to Dáil Éireann on Thursday evening were contradicted by the HSE the following morning.
Commenting on the discrepancy between the two sets of figures Denis Naughten said: “Clearly, either the Minister was given the wrong figures by the HSE or the comments at Friday’s press conference were inaccurate.
“I have been very critical in the past of the way the HSE has been presenting contact tracing figures and this strategy now seems to have led to a situation where Minister Harris has inadvertently misled Dáil Éireann.
“I say ‘inadvertently’ because I provided the Minister’s office with 24hrs notice of the issue I was raising on contact tracing to ensure that I had an accurate and definitive response. And I firmly believe that this was the Minister’s intention.
“But what this does expose is the fact that the HSE is not even being transparent with the Minister for Health on what is happening with contact tracing and this goes to the core of the problem with this system.
“In fact, at a briefing with the 3 Roscommon Galway TDs on Friday evening the HSE was unable to provide the local contact tracing figures, which seems bizarre if the process has been successfully completed”
“The HSE’s failure to provide such clarity to Dáil Éireann is, I believe, to conceal an underlying problem with contact tracing which is undermining the credibility of the screening programme.
“Testing and delivering results in the shortest time possible is the key to success in managing Covid-19. The delays we have seen in providing results and following up of close contacts are totally unacceptable and contribute to the spread of the disease.
“Unless we get this right and we have transparent answers from the HSE then we risk exposing our people to a second wave of Covid-19 infection” concluded Denis Naughten.
Copy of letter to Minister Harris
From: Denis Naughten <Denis.Naughten@oireachtas.ie>
Sent: 05 June 2020 14:13
Subject: Contact tracing discrepancy
Dear Minister Harris,
As you know I have raised very serious concerns with you over the last period about contact tracing.
I do this with the sole purpose of ensuring a robust system is in place so we can identify all possible sources of Covid-19 infection and thereby protect our people from a second potential wave of infection.
It was with that purpose in mind that I contacted your office on Wednesday afternoon to highlight a problem that was brought to my attention by a concerned public health official about contact tracing within the meat industry.
I gave you advance notice of this because I wanted to ensure that you could provide Dáil Éireann, the people of Ireland and, more importantly, the communities where meat plants are located with the most accurate information possible.
I wish to recognise that you acknowledged that very point in your response to me in Dáil Éireann yesterday evening.
I was therefore amazed that this morning at a HSE press conference it was reported that Dr Mai Mannix said community contact tracing within the meat sector was at about 90% in most instances, which is in direct contrast to the figures you provided to Dáil Éireann yesterday.
I therefore want to bring to your attention that you either inadvertently misled Dáil Éireann with false information provided to you by the HSE or the figures presented at the press conference this morning were incorrect.
To bring clarity to this issue I would be grateful if you could, by return, provide me with the figures of close contacts in each meat plant and the numbers that have been contacted and tested.
If you have the test figures to hand, I would be grateful if you could furnish me with the positive test numbers in each instance by Monday morning.
I await these figures by return,
Denis Naughten TD
Extract from Dáil debate:
Thursday, 4 June 2020
Covid-19 (Health): Statements
Denis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
…………. With regard to the meat plants, I am informed that, in some instances, only about one third of the close contacts of those who have been identified as positive within the meat industry have been followed up. That is completely unacceptable. It is creating a significant community risk and it is, I believe, down to the failure to have an effective contact tracing system.
This day two weeks ago, the Minister wrote to me in the context of very serious allegations I had made to him in writing regarding meat plants and nursing homes. He informed me that NPHET was to consider the report of the national outbreak management team on 22 May, which is now two weeks ago. On foot of that, the Minister was going to be in a position to address the very serious issues I had raised with him. Two weeks later, I am still waiting for answers to some very serious questions.
Simon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
In the interests of time, I suggest that I respond to the Deputy in writing on the matters he raised. I am reluctant to disagree with Deputy Naughten because he is often right, as I find out in this House, and he highlighted very important issues here before. My information, for what it is worth, is that when it comes to contact tracing of meat plant staff, and I specifically asked this on foot of contact from the Deputy, the amount of contact tracing is much higher than one third and is between at least 60% and 70%, although there are a number of cases in which there are contact and communications difficulties. We have a national outbreak team chaired by a very good doctor, Dr. Mannix. I suggest that I put the Deputy directly in contact with her for a briefing on the work being done in regard to the meat plants, considering the Deputy has highlighted so many important issues.
With regard to the negative test results, I should have said that, in order to speed up the process, since the middle of last month we have been delivering negative results by text message. I am told by the HSE that, in the community and the hospital, these text messages are now delivered within a couple of hours of receiving the lab results. The HSE has advised that an end-to-end turnaround time of two days for negative cases is now being achieved in about 80% of cases.
Denis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
I acknowledge what the Minister has just said. However, I took my concerns regarding the meat plants directly to the HSE six weeks ago in advance of bringing them up in the House. It was well aware of this a long time ago. That is all I will say.
Link to full contribution: https://www.kildarestreet.com/debates/?id=2020-06-04a.165#g250