HSE chief backs '70 per cent' of decision to ask Covid-positive to do own contact tracing

Hse Chief Backs '70 Per Cent' Of Decision To Ask Covid-Positive To Do Own Contact Tracing
HSE Director General, Paul Reid
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Vivienne Clarke

The chief of the HSE has said "70 per cent" of the decision to ask Covid-19 patients to undertake their own contact tracing was correct.

Around 2,500 people diagnosed with the virus over the weekend have been asked inform their own close contacts as a temporary measure in response to a high volume of positive cases.

HSE chief Paul Reid has said he takes responsibility for not informing Government of the situation, who learned of the issue through media reports.

“From my perspective, 70 per cent of the decision was right, the 30 per cent in terms of keeping the politicians, particularly the Minister and the Taoiseach, advised at the quickest pace we were dealing with this issue, was something that didn’t work the way it should," he said.

"I take responsibility for that.”


Earlier today, Mr Reid apologised to the 2,000 people who were asked to forward a text to their own contacts.

“It's an unfortunate situation, I regret it,” he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show. What had happened at the weekend was a cause of concern he said, but it was not a decision that was taken lightly.

Mr Reid said his professional view was that lockdown impacts on society and on the health service and he would prefer to avoid it, but he supported “where we are now with the escalation to Level 5 restrictions.

“We were not catching up on the backlog over the weekend.” Despite recruiting an extra 70 contact tracers per week, the “huge surge” in the past 10 days “did catch us.”

The recruitment process had not caught up with the surge in cases, he said. The recruitment campaign had commenced on September 7th, 2,000 had applied, 800 interviews were held over five weeks. There were now 500 working in contact tracing with the plan to build up to 800 in the next few weeks.

We will get 70 per cent of decisions right, the most important thing to do is to make a decision

But the 30 per cent of wrong decisions would cause a lot of angst, he warned.


Mr Reid acknowledged that he should have communicated the decision to advise people to do their own contact tracing with the Taoiseach, with whom he is in regular contact.

Risk based decision

It was a decision that had to be made about the operation and it was one he stood over, he said. Every decision that was made with regard to health “gets political.”

The reality was that as they (the HSE) were dealing with the situation they were contacted by the media “and that's what happened.” He explained.

Breakdown in contact tracing system ‘won’t happen...
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“We want to be transparent at all times, and sometimes events catch up with us.” It had been an unfortunate situation and he regretted that it had happened.

Mr Reid acknowledged that timing was bad on the first day of lockdown and that it was putting pressure on GPs. It had been a risk based decision that had to be made. He defended the testing system saying it was “one of the best in Europe.”

When asked about the number of positive cases that will be contacts of the 2,000 people asked to do their own contact tracing, Mr Reid said that the mean number of contacts per person was four. The majority of close contacts were family members, he said.

The HSE will continue to build up lab capacity, tracing capacity and ICU capacity, he said and the Government had offered its full support to provide resources for “what we need, if we need it.”

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