Expert says Ireland needs to change its coronavirus testing policy


Jack Quann
Jack Quann

13.15 2 Apr 2020


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An infectious disease specialist believes we need to change our coronavirus testing policy.

Fourteen more people died from the virus here on Wednesday, and 212 additional cases were confirmed.

While 126 people have been admitted to the ICU to date.

Dr Paddy Mallon is a physician at St Vincent’s Hospital and Professor of Microbial Diseases at UCD.

He believes our testing needs to be more focused on healthcare workers and nursing homes, and less on the general community.

He told Newstalk Breakfast this would be more effective.

"The focus for the near-future really needs to be on ensuring that we've enough tests at the hospital level to enable the hospitals to function and cope with people presenting here sick."

"After that, we do need to be able to test staff quickly to enable those staff that may have been exposed to COVID-19 - if they are negative - to be able to return to work".

"Focus your testing where you're going to get the most benefit from it - and the most benefit we're going to get is by maintaining as many people in the healthcare service at work as we can.

"And also ensuring that our nursing homes are kept safe and and we can protect our elderly so that they don't get sick and end up in hospital".

He says while it is too early to be certain, there are some "early signs at the community level" to suggest restrictions in place are having an effect.

"Whether they're enough to actually enable the hospitals to cope with the surging cases it's just too early to say.

"We're seeing a steady stream of people coming into hospital very sick with COVID-19, and a steady stream going to ICU.

"So I'd say over the next week we'll get an idea as to whether or not we actually have the capacity to deal with this".

It comes as the Cabinet sub-committee on COVID-19 will meet later to discuss the impact of the latest coronavirus restrictions.

   

Trade union SIPTU has welcomed the call to prioritise the testing of all health workers.

SIPTU health divisional organiser Paul Bell says: "We urgently need to ramp up testing and to work towards a policy that safeguards our health workers, patients and community.

"We have looked to other jurisdictions where mandatory testing of health workers proved to be a positive factor in defeating the virus.

"South Korea, Hong Kong and health authorities in Taiwan committed to this policy early and with some success.

"Since SIPTU representatives first issued our demand to rigorously monitor and test all health workers for COVID-19, our concerns have proven to be well founded as official figures show 22 nursing homes have been confirmed as COVID-19 positive clusters."

"The need for COVID-19 testing of community health workers is also essential as numerous older people receiving home care have been refused access to their home due to concerns that their carer might carry the virus.

"Our members working as home helps and home care support  assistants need support to keep people safe and well in their homes, as the majority of the people for whom they care, are in the high risk category.

"This will allow hospitals to concentrate on treating COVID-19 patients and give people the assurance and comfort that they are safe in the hands of our carers."

Almost 600 healthcare workers have tested positive for the virus and are off duty.


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