Written answers

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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241. To ask the Minister for Health his plans in relation to using rapid antigen detection tests and their wider use in the community in particular in relation to at risk settings in the workplace in addition to in schools in view of recent advice from HIQA (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23607/21]

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Considerable work has been undertaken to date to evaluate the potential use of rapid antigen detection tests (RADTs) in an Irish context and this will continue on an ongoing basis. In the health sector, the HSE has deployed rapid antigen tests for use for specific indications in the acute hospital setting, and as part of the response to outbreaks in the community setting, supported by appropriate clinical governance and operational arrangements. This includes updating the case definition for SARS-CoV-2 to accept notification of positive results from rapid antigen tests undertaken in the public health system and reporting of such cases to the COVID Care tracker and to the Computerised Infectious Disease Reporting (CIDR) information system developed to manage the surveillance and control of infectious diseases in Ireland.

Operational planning is also underway in the HSE in relation to the piloting of testing using RADTs in education and childcare settings. This includes development of guidance documentation, a training programme and other related templates and resources to support the testing pathway for educational facilities. The antigen assay to use for the pilot has been selected and stakeholder engagement is ongoing. I am also aware that a further rapid testing partnership initiative by a number of universities, supported by partners including the HSE and HIQA, is also being scoped for piloting in the near future.

The HSE’s Antigen Validation Project Team has conducted a validation study of antigen testing in meat processing facilities. A further pilot of rapid antigen testing in this sector is being overseen by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, supported by the HSE. At the request of the HSE Antigen Test Working Group, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) was requested to examine the impact on transmission risk and resource requirements of different approaches to serial testing using rapid antigen detection tests (RADTs) in meat processing plants. The result of this analysis was published on 30 April 2021. HIQA modelled the impact of different serial testing scenarios using RADTS in these settings both in addition to, and as an alternative to, the current practice of monthly RT-PCR-based serial testing. HIQA found the preferred testing strategy used RADT-based serial testing once weekly with positive antigen tests confirmed by RT-PCR. It should be noted that HIQA has stated that, as the data collected is specific to the environment of meat processing plants, it would be inappropriate to apply the results of this analysis to other settings.

The “Report of the COVID-19 Rapid Testing Group” which was chaired at my request by the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Mark Ferguson, and published on 1 April 2021, made a number of recommendations for sectors outside the health sector and these are a matter for the Ministers and Departments with responsibility for the sectors concerned.


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