I propose to take Questions Nos. 682 to 684, inclusive, together.
In Ireland, the national testing strategy for COVID-19 involves testing people who meet the case definition (people with symptoms), their identified close contacts, and established serial testing programmes. It is directed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and coordinated by the Health Service Executive (HSE). Samples are taken by healthcare professionals in healthcare settings, community test centres, workplaces or in the patient’s home. All testing for COVID-19 as part of the national strategy is currently conducted in the National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL), hospital diagnostic laboratories and other designated laboratories overseen by the NVRL.
These tests are provided free of charge and there is currently sufficient capacity in the system for testing through this pathway. Members of the public are advised to follow the HSE guidance in respect of testing which is available on the HSE website.
The national testing strategy has been implemented to ensure that:
- test results are reported to the relevant stakeholders (for monitoring and surveillance purposes as COVID-19 is a notifiable disease);
- contact tracing activities are initiated (where appropriate);
- an incorrect test result does not lead to false reassurance resulting in individuals failing to seek the necessary medical help. During this time, the individual may also unknowingly spread the virus;
Under the Infectious Disease Regulations (S.I. No. 53/2020 - Infectious Diseases (Amendment) Regulations 2020 which amended the Infectious Diseases Regulations 1981 (S.I. No. 390 of 1981), all medical practitioners, including clinical directors of diagnostic laboratories, are required to notify the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) / Director of Public Health of certain diseases, including COVID-19. The MOH also reports such cases onwards to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC). This is to ensure that test results are reported to relevant stakeholders for monitoring and surveillance purposes and to investigate cases, thus preventing spread of infection and further cases. This requirement also applies to all private testing services who are, therefore, legally obliged to report positive Covid-19 case to the relevant authorities.
As Minister for Health, I do not have statutory responsibility relating to the provision of privately operated COVID-19 testing facilities. However, the HSE has published guidance for private testing laboratories undertaking SARS-CoV-2 testing to ensure that all tests are reported and dealt with in an appropriate manner, and in line with our infectious disease legislation.
Where the HSE becomes aware of any specific issues with private laboratory reporting, they engage directly with the private testing laboratories to resolve any issues. They communicate the HPSC guidance and monitor the market for new providers to ensure they are aware of their obligations. The HSE website also offers factual, up to date and accessible public facing information on private testing https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/testing/private-testing-for-covid-19.html .
The tests provided by the public system are provided free of charge and there is sufficient capacity in the system for testing through this pathway. Anybody who has symptoms is advised to seek assistance from their GP and is advised to follow the HSE guidance in respect of testing which is available on the HSE website.