The messaging from public health officials around antigen testing has been “insulting and paternalistic”, a Fine Gael senator says.
Regina Doherty believes the rapid tests should be “freely available” to the public - although said she’s not going to be split hairs about “whether they should be €1 or free”.
Plans for subsidised antigen tests were due to go to Cabinet today.
The plan was to subsidise the rapid tests in pharmacies, reducing the cost to €2-3 each.
However, that’s now been delayed amid ongoing talks with other retailers on the possibility of bringing them into the subsidisation scheme from the start.
Senator Doherty told The Hard Shoulder “it’s a pity” the plans didn’t go to Cabinet today, but she’s confident they will next week.
She said: “You wouldn’t dream of asking people to pay for a PCR test.
“Particularly when we’re asking people in high-risk situations - such as people socialising or people who have older people in their families - to use rapid tests 2-3 times a week… then €8 per test, or whatever it is they are in the shops at the moment, doesn’t allow most families to do that.
“We’re kind of speaking out of both sides of our mouths on this, and I think that’s wrong.”
NPHET had been reluctant to approve the wider use of antigen tests for many months, but officials have somewhat softened their stance in recent weeks.
Nonetheless, senior officials have continued to raise concerns that many people do not use the rapid tests appropriately.
Senator Doherty believes that kind of messaging is “paternalistic and quite insulting”.
She said: “If you have a genuine concern that people are either using antigen tests when they shouldn’t be or won’t know how to read the results… then show us and explain to us.
"Help us in a good way, not in a dismissive, insulting way that you couldn’t possibly be trusted. That’s the message that’s coming across, and it’s not on.”
She said it shouldn't be about blaming people, but instead understanding what people are doing and trying to change the behaviour if needed.