Thursday, 25 February 2021
Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Minister of State for attending to address this important issue. I am glad that this has been selected as a Topical Issue matter and thank the Minister of State for taking the time to respond. I have been raising this issue for a number of months and am keen to hear about the Government's plans or intentions for the roll-out of rapid antigen testing.
The WHO and the European Commission recommend rapid antigen testing that meets the minimum performance requirements of greater than 80% sensitivity and 97% specificity. A number of rapid antigen testing products currently in use in this country far exceed these requirements, including the Roche and Abbott tests. Rapid antigen testing should be administered by trained professionals. Indeed, the nasopharyngeal sampling requires it. The rapid tests could be conducted on-site, in pharmacies or in local health centres. Results can be uploaded to the Health Passport Europe platform, which can be used for receiving and displaying Covid-19 status and certification. This technology exists and is being used in the corporate sector by many pharmaceutical companies and multinationals as well as in the food processing sector and the construction industry. This rapid testing technology is being used at the national children's hospital construction site, for example. I have been informed that the screening taking place in some of the businesses and building sites I have mentioned has detected Covid positive cases before they entered the workplace. I have been told that four Covid positive workers were detected recently at the site of the national children's hospital. Rapid antigen testing was key to identifying these cases early and subsequently isolating those affected. This meant there were no knock-on consequences for that site.
Rapid antigen testing can complement the PCR testing in use. It is not intended to replace PCR testing but can play a pivotal role in screening and detecting Covid positive cases. It can also give hope to certain sectors that business can reopen and hope to individuals that they can attend necessary appointments and spend time with their loved ones. Rapid testing can also provide protection for people in the workplace. It can help to protect our front-line staff as they deal with the wider public in the context of appointments, surgery and medical emergencies. I reiterate that this is not a panacea for all of our Covid-related problems but it will complement the PCR testing we are already doing. I urge the Minister of State to relay my arguments to the Minister for Health and the Government. Health screening can give our country greater confidence and some reassurance that there is a way out of our current situation. The investment required to do this could be minimal. Many companies are doing this screening themselves anyway and are leading on it. It is time for the Government to consider it as a tool to strengthen the measures being undertaken, including vaccinations and quarantining.