Opening walk-in PCR testing centres would do nothing to increase capacity in the system, according to the HSE.
People around the country are reporting problems accessing testing on the HSE’s self-referral portal as daily case numbers remain high.
This morning, there are no self-referral tests available in ten counties – Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Meath, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford or Wicklow.
The situation has seen calls from GPs for walk-in PCR community test centres to be reopened around the country.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the HSE’s National Lead for the Vaccination Programme Damien McCallion said walk-in centres would not create more appointments.
He said the system has capacity to carry out more than 25,000 tests a day – with over 200,000 carried out in the last week alone.
Over the last six to seven weeks, he said close to one million tests were carried out.
Mr McCallion said patients who are referred for testing by GPs or HSE contact tracers are still accessing tests the same day or the next day.
“The pressure at the moment, in some parts of the country, is around the self-referrals and people are having challenges getting those appointments,” he said.
“We only release those tests 24 to 48 hours in advance so there are areas in the country where there are challenges.”
Mr McCallion noted that PCR tests are generally reserved for close contacts and people with symptoms – and warned anyone awaiting a test that they must self-isolate in the meantime.
“If you have symptoms, frustrating as it is to maybe have wait for a test, you essentially have to restrict your movements for a period and you must be symptom-free for 48 hours [before ending your self-isolation].
“So, while the delay in terms of getting a test is clearly frustrating for people and we appreciate that, it doesn’t change the actual advice for you. Stay at home until you are symptom-free.”
Mr McCallion said the amount of testing that can be carried out is also limited by lab capacity.
“We still have some capacity in the labs and our contact tracing as well,” he said. “The pressure point is clearly on the appointments side.
“Effectively, we have slots and we see people roughly every five minutes in terms of the appointments. They are moved through at pace in all the centres.
“That capacity is fixed so walk-ins won’t bring in any additional capacity into the system and the concern we have from our public health people is that essentially you run the risk of large crowds gathering in an uncontrolled environment and that really doesn’t make sense given these are symptomatic cases.
“Essentially, it doesn’t increase capacity that option.”
Mr McCallion also said the vaccine booster rollout to the medically vulnerable should get underway next week.
He said the over-50s will then be the next group in line for the booster – likely towards the end of December.
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