‘Less keen’ nursing home staff could refuse weekly Covid-19 testing – HSE

ireland
‘Less Keen’ Nursing Home Staff Could Refuse Weekly Covid-19 Testing – Hse
The HSE is considering the introduction of weekly Covid-19 testing in nursing homes. Photo: Getty Images.
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By Vivienne Clarke

The HSE is considering the introduction of weekly Covid-19 testing in nursing homes, but the testing would not be mandatory for staff, according to the health service’s chief operating officer.

Anne O’Connor told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show that while she personally thought it was not acceptable that testing was not compulsory, the majority of nursing homes in Ireland were private entities and it was a matter for employers to engage with staff.

Ms O’Connor said the HSE had not legal basis for making Covid-19 testing mandatory.

“Testing is not mandatory, that's the way it is. We don't have any legal basis for making it mandatory… testing is not mandatory either in the public system or the private system,” she said.

“We have seen a very good uptake of testing in general, but we know in some nursing homes, as time has gone on, people have been less keen. We continue to encourage people to take up testing,” she added.

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“In terms of frontline workers we haven't had a problem. People have been tested, people are being vaccinated. The challenge you mentioned there [regarding] nursing homes, that is another discussion.”

Vaccine hesitancy

At present, testing in nursing homes was once a fortnight, which had proved to be “very effective.” The HSE was also looking at the role of antigen testing, Ms O’Connor said. “We’re looking at how we can maintain services, how to prioritise care, not just Covid care.”

Ms O’Connor said the HSE was concerned about vaccine hesitancy, but since the beginning of the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine the response had been overwhelming.

“The national immunisation office usually operates on 80 per cent uptake at a max, we have seen an overwhelming desire by frontline workers to get this vaccine,” she said.

“We haven't had to consider (taking off frontline staff if they refuse the vaccine) yet. Ideally not, we have no evidence yet of frontline workers not wanting this vaccine - it's quite the opposite. Our challenge at the minute is that everybody wants it – it's great.”

The priority was currently to vaccinate “patient-facing workers” regardless of their discipline or grade, she said. “We are looking at porters, cleaners, anyone who is moving around.”

Hospital peak

Ms O’Connor said that Covid-19 hospital figures this morning were at 1,575 cases in hospital – an increase of 145 in the last 24 hours. The number in intensive care had risen to 127.

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“We're heading towards the doubling of the peak in April of 880. That's a very significant challenge for us,” she said.

It was very important not to get into a situation of blaming anybody, she said. “We can see that case numbers have gone very high - they haven't peaked yet, the end of the coming week potentially.

“That's because of the time lag of when people are infected — to be fair, none of us knows where this virus is, people need to reduce their mixing. Unfortunately for essential workers it is not an option to stay at home. We need our staff.”

Ms O’Connor said that when people are at work “they're very clued in, about the use of PPE, hand washing etcetera, but when people are tired and their guards are down they can mix more easily and they mightn't be as aware.”

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