Written answers

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Verona Murphy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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760. To ask the Minister for Health if consideration has been given to introducing drive-in Covid-19 test centres in which persons with symptoms can present without a general practitioner referral; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31694/20]

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Verona Murphy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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761. To ask the Minister for Health the plans in place to introduce rapid testing regimes at airports, ports, hospitals, nursing homes and schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31695/20]

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Testing and contact tracing continues to be a key component of the Government’s and the country’s response to the pandemic and the HSE will continue to apply the necessary resources to ensure that our response remains effective.

The HSE is now finalising the future service model for testing and contact tracing. This model will aim to deliver a patient-centred, accessible, consistent, flexible service, with a permanent dedicated workforce.

The HSE has adopted RNA PCR as the gold standard test for diagnosing Covid-19 cases, as part of the HSE test and trace strategy, consistent with international best practice, and approved by NPHET. This platform is deployed in acute hospitals, the NVRL and HSE’s commercial partners. Given the volumes required, these operate as batch tests and hence take a number of hours depending on the platform and the volume being processed. The vast majority of Covd-19 tests carried out to date are PCR tests.

Regarding rapid PCR testing equipment, the HSE advises it has access to about 3,000 rapid PCR tests per week, all of this is used in acute settings for high priority, accidents, critical care. It is not used for any priority groups, but rather hospital priority cases which require urgent turnaround, and is designed for small batches of 1-16 tests. The HSE is constantly trying to increase supply of rapid PCR tests.

Many of the rapid non-PCR Covid tests reported in the media which purport to offer a test result in minutes may lack the sensitivity and specificity required for healthcare. However, this issue continues to be monitored by WHO, ECDC, HIQA, and the HSE Laboratory taskforce.

NPHET will continue to consider and review, based on public health risk assessments, how best to target testing to hunt the virus in populations where it’s most likely and where it will do most harm. For example, very few other countries have carried out such mass testing in Long Term Residential Care facilities. The HSE has also carried out serial testing in meat and food processing facilities, Direct Provision Centres, and schools.

In terms of different types of testing, NPHET is also considering the findings of a rapid Health Technology Assessment (HTA) of alternatives to laboratory-based PCR testing to diagnose current infection with SARS-CoV-2. This HTA will be used to inform the national testing strategy, specifically in relation to the potential use of rapid tests in Ireland.

A number of key considerations will need to be taken into account in relation to the deployment of any rapid test for SARS-CoV-2 including test accuracy and performance in the specific test setting, disease prevalence, training, resourcing, operational factors, governance structures, quality assurance, clinical oversight, as well as integration with the contact tracing system and overall national testing strategy.

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