THE HSE will be able to carry out 100,000 tests for Covid-19 every week under a plan to be published in the coming days, Health Minister Simon Harris has said.
r Harris said the executive will publish a plan to ramp up testing and “arrive at a point where we would have the capacity to do up to 100,000 tests a week should that need arise”.
He said at present the HSE has the capacity to process up to 10,000 tests a day, but said this does not mean that that number of tests is being carried out. HSE chief executive Paul Reid and senior management will map out how “over the next couple of weeks, you ramp that up to maybe 12,000 and 13,000 and then 15,000”, the minister said.
It comes as the criteria for testing is likely to change in the coming weeks meaning more people will be eligible to be tested for the disease.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said on Friday that anyone with one of the major symptoms of the disease - fever, cough or shortness of breath - will be able to be tested.
Dr Holohan said people in vulnerable and at risk groups, as well as healthcare workers, would continue to be prioritised under the plan.
Mr Harris denied reports of tensions between the HSE and the Department of Health over the plan to ramp up testing.
He pointed out that HSE officials sit on the National Public Emergency Team which made the 100,000 tests per week recommendation.
“I've seen lots of tense moments between the HSE and the Department of Health lots of times. I've never seen such a level of collaboration. People are just working every day of the week and everybody is pulling in the same direction,” he said.
Mr Harris was speaking after a meeting of medical experts from around the country on Saturday where they discussed the national response to the Covid-19 emergency.
The Fine Gael TD pointed out there were 118 people with the disease in intensive care units compared to 160 earlier this month.
Mr Harris said progress is “fragile” but Ireland has avoided the scenarios predicted in modelling a number of weeks ago that 2,000 people would be in ICU today and as many as 12,000 people would die from Covid-19 in May.
“We're sitting here today with 118 people in ICU - that’s the progress the Irish people have made, but it is fragile, and it can go in reverse if people don't follow the public health advice.”
Amid growing public expectation that lockdown measures will be lifted after May 5, Mr Harris said if the CMO had to make a decision today on easing restrictions he would advise against it.
Mr Harris said there is not going to “a big bang moment in terms of the lifting the restrictions” but said the Government hoped to set out a plan next week for reopening the country with the initial “easing of one or two restrictions” after May 5.
Meanwhile, the Government is finalising plans to redeploy some home help workers to private nursing homes to tackle the spread of Covid-19 in addition to the 120 HSE staff who have already been redeployed there in recent days.
“We know that there are some people who perhaps because their family are around more at the moment, or perhaps because there is more community supports in place at the moment through the local authorities and the likes, may not be reliant on home help as they were and we’ve put a protocol in place whereby if public health nurse views that to be the case then home help personnel can be redeployed into nursing homes.”
Mr Harris said those working in the area of home help had been “cooperative and obliging” and there was some work ongoing to “bottom out” issues with contract and insurance cover to allow these workers into private nursing homes.
He said that he hoped to be able to finalise the new arrangements ahead of a meeting with Nursing Homes Ireland, the body which represents private nursing homes, on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the HSE has confirmed that 21 people have died from Covid-19 in a single Dublin nursing home.
The agency confirmed the death toll at St Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park, one of the country’s largest public care centres for the elderly, on Saturday.
Eleven people died of Covid-19 at the home between 2 and 17 April and a further 10 deaths have now been confirmed.
Health Minister Simon Harris extended his sympathies to the families of those who passed away and staff working at the home. “I know there's a lot of supports being looked at in relation to St. Mary's,” he said at a press conference in the Department of Health.
“I understand that the HSE has given this a lot of attention. I spoke to David Walsh yesterday, the National Director for Community Services, in relation to the support. I understand that included things like the redeployment of staff from other areas of the HSE.”