Tuesday, 13 July 2021
Department of Health
86. To ask the Minister for Health if he will introduce cost effective rapid antigen testing at local pharmacy level to protect against and contain Covid-19 at the earliest possible opportunity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37685/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 86 and 129 together.
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.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, supported by the HSE, has implemented an antigen testing programme in food processing facilities, supplementing the PCR serial testing programme there. These tests are being carried out under clinical governance arrangements put in place by the Department of Agriculture. A further rapid testing pilot scheme began on June 14th in four universities including NUI Galway, Trinity College Dublin, UCD, and UCC. Operational planning is also underway in the HSE in relation to the piloting of testing using RADTs in other 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 “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.
The HSE has recently published the report of the Antigen Test Validation Project which validated a number of rapid antigen detection tests (ADTS) intended for testing samples for SARS-CoV-2 antigen. The products evaluated were chosen as those expected to represent the best available products based on the manufacturers claims and other available evidence. The recommendations in this report will assist in the consideration of any other potential applications of rapid antigen detection tests to support the overall national testing strategy.
I have established an Expert Advisory Group on Rapid Testing which will be chaired by Professor Mary Horgan, to support and advise Government departments who are responsible for progressing pilots and the rollout of rapid tests to their respective sectors.
On an ongoing basis, the National Public Health Emergency Team considers and reviews how best to target testing to detect, and mitigate the impact of, the virus across the population. This includes keeping Ireland’s national testing and tracing policy under continuing review.