Opening Statement to Special Committee on COVID -19 Response by Paul Reid, CEO HSE

Wednesday 26 August, 2020

Introduction 

Good morning Chairman and members. Thank you for the invitation to meet with the Special Committee on COVID-19. I am joined by my colleagues:

  • Dr. Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer, HSE
  • Ms. Anne O’Connor, Chief Operations Officer, HSE
  • Ms. Niamh O’Beirne, Lead for Testing and Tracing, HSE

Over the past few weeks we have been focused on restoring various aspects of our health services that had to be suspended in the early phases of COVID-19.

We have also been finalising plans to protect our patients, the public and our staff this coming winter and throughout 2021. As we have recently seen, we need to continuously assess these plans as we experience increased cases of the virus, major outbreaks and the requirement for significant serial testing along with increased demands on contact tracing. 

In the past 14 days there have been 1,269 confirmed cases. For context, the equivalent number for the same two weeks in July, was 264.

Testing and Contact Tracing 

The Committee has requested specific engagement on the State’s response to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases. In the last two weeks we have triggered our resourcing escalation plan for Testing and Tracing. Serial testing is ongoing in meat and food processing plants, and we have reintroduced serial testing programmes in nursing homes.

I want to inform the Committee of the current situation regarding testing and tracing throughput: 

  1. To date we have completed over ¾ million tests;
  2. Last week we recorded our highest weekly tests since April, at 55,000, and we are recording similar numbers this week;
  3. The previous highest was at the peak of COVID-19 in April at 60,000;
  4. The median end-to-end turnaround time over the past seven days is 2.2;
  5. Last week we completed 4,949 contact tracing calls.

These statistics give the Committee a sense of the numbers we are contending with and the pace at which we are moving. Standing up these teams is complex and must be understood in the context of our need to make the best use of resources during both peaks and troughs of this virus. It is important to reemphasise that testing and tracing is a key tool to protect against transmission of the virus. However, the primary line of defence are the public health measures that we must all take, all of the time.  We are finalising a new model for testing and tracing to set out a more permanent workforce and to implement further process and technology changes. 

Management of Outbreaks (Public Health)

Testing and tracing works hand-in-glove with the work of Public Health teams. Through this pandemic our Public Health teams have adopted a rapid, robust and comprehensive response to prevent, identify and control outbreaks when they occur, utilising the best public health knowledge and science available. 

Indeed, I would like to pay a special tribute to all our public health teams who have been working relentlessly now for the past seven months.

The National Standing Oversight Committee on Cases and Outbreaks of COVID-19 in High Risk Settings was established by the HSE on the 7th of August.

It includes broad cross-sectoral representation.

Criteria for the assessment of Meat Plant outbreaks to inform decisions regarding their closure and reopening has been developed. This utilises a standard Public Health Risk Assessment model, emphasising that blanket measures may not be helpful. We have also worked with the Department of Education on similar criteria for responding to outbreaks in schools, which will be a key focus in the coming weeks and months.

While institutional and workplace settings are receiving much attention, our public health departments are also responding to a large number of outbreaks in private households and amongst family, sporting and social groups.

By Saturday 22nd of August, our Public Health Teams had responded to a total of 2,580 outbreaks since the onset of the pandemic.  

Hospitalisations 

While there has been an increase in the transmission of COVID-19, the indications are that our hospitals have not, as yet, been confronted with a similar increase in admissions.

There are currently 22 patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19, 6 are in ICU and 3 are currently ventilated. This lower rate of admission may be attributable to the lower age profile of patients that has characterised the resurgence in the disease over the past months. There is no room for complacency, however, and we have plans in place to deal with a surge in hospitalisations.

Closing Comments 

We are facing into a very difficult period ahead in our health services. In an ideal world the elimination of the virus would make our work somewhat more straightforward. However, this isn’t our reality. We must live with this virus in a very new way, and this requires a carefully balanced approach. The health services need a functioning economy and society. Shutting down the economy and society has implications for our health services. 

Finally, I would like to again pay a special thanks to everyone working in healthcare. We have witnessed much of what is great about the people who work in it. We need to now all support them again. 

This concludes my statement and we will be happy to address any questions you may have.

Thank you.

ENDS

 

Last updated on: 26 / 08 / 2020