HSE boss Paul Reid has described the extreme challenges in dealing with the volume of referrals for Covid-19 tests, as the system comes under severe pressure.
Mr Reid said that while capacity for PCR tests have been increased to deal with the rising demand, there is a limit to what the health service can cope with.
The HSE’s self-referral portal shows no availability in almost 20 counties.
Mr Reid said the high levels of transmission in the community is affecting the demand for PCR testing.
“It is extremely challenging in dealing with all the referrals, so we do appreciate the frustration,” Mr Reid said.
“We put in the capacity, but there are limits as to what capacity we can keep pumping into a system at these levels.
“There does come a point where we have to be upfront, and we have been upfront, to set out that there will be people who experience some delays in terms of getting their test.
“Those who have been clinically prioritised are receiving tests in a very timely manner on either the same day or next day.
“But we do acknowledge some people are waiting with the significant numbers that we have coming through in terms of self referrals.
“But this is where the public support is key.”
He said that 210,000 PCR lab tests have been carried out in the past seven days.
The HSE has brought in help from the National Ambulance Service and private operators to help scale up capacity.
Earlier, the Dáil was told that buying a ticket to see Garth Brooks is easier than booking an appointment for a Covid-19 test.
Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said it has been “impossible” to book a PCR test in most counties as demand soared in recent weeks.
Mr Doherty said some people have offered to swap concert tickets for a PCR test.
“I’m sure we’ve all seen the comments on social media, the bit of banter about how it’s easier to get Garth Brooks tickets in the state than it is to get a PCR test,” Mr Doherty told the Dáil.
“Others are posting that they’ve got Garth Brooks tickets and are willing to swap for a PCR slot.
“While that might be a bit of light banter, the reality is very, very serious.
“It’s impossible to book a PCR test in most of this state.
“In Dublin there is no slots available, Carlow none, Cork, Kerry, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Leitrim, Meath, Offaly, Meath, Tipperary, Waterford, West Meath, Wexford or Wicklow.
The crisis in our hospitals didn't happen overnight, and the failure by the Government to build-up ICU capacity over the last two years is simply inexcusable.
What is the government's plan for the winter period? asks @PearseDoherty #LeadersQuestions #Dáil pic.twitter.com/EcajjQP8Pb
— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) November 25, 2021
“Not a slot to be got for love nor money.”
The Government has faced mounting criticism over delays in accessing appointments, with people forced to wait days or travel long distances for an appointment.
The HSE has the capacity to carry out more than 30,000 tests a day.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said there has been an “extremely high and sustained” demand for tests in recent weeks, compounded by people suffering other respiratory illnesses.
“It is necessary for us to prioritise and to adjust testing criteria in order to prioritise those most in need of a test,” he added.
“The system is operating in excess of surge capacity.”
— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) November 24, 2021
Mr Doherty said the delay in accessing appointments is a result of a Government failure to plan for a surge.
“We see GP services overwhelmed. We see schools that are struggling, we still don’t have a plan from Government in relation to making an antigen test free or even subsidised,” the Donegal TD added.
“Nearly two years into this pandemic, we have a system that needs to be equipped to cope with higher levels of transmission.
“When we reopened our economy there was always going to be a chance of higher transmission, and therefore plans needed to be put in place and plans need to be executed, but the Government has failed and failed drastically in this matter.”
Mr Varadkar said priority for tests has been given to people where a GP said a test is warranted, and those who are deemed as a close contact and are symptomatic.