Tracers getting ‘a fair degree of abuse’

HSE: Major change in manner of infectious disease notification since Covid-19 outbreak not always well-received

Prior to Covid-19 almost all positive test results for notifiable infectious diseases would have been delivered to the person concerned either by the general practitioner (GP) or their hospital clinician, the Joint Committee on Health meeting yesterday heard.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, Assistant National Director, Health and Well-being Public Health and Child Health Division in the Health and Well-being Public Health and Child Health Division of the Health Service Executive, outlined to the meeting.

He explained how that relationship had changed entirely since the onset of Covid-19.

“We have had to change that relationship entirely since Covid so that now we tell them, not through their clinician who normally is their GP or hospital consultant, but by someone in one of our centres. That is a big change,” said Dr Kelleher.

The Committee heard that most people were receptive to tracers and would follow the public health advice and attended their test.

In response to a question asking him to characterise the nature of some of the difficult calls that had had to be dealt with by tracers, Dr Kelleher said they found that people were often “very unhappy” to be told that they were a contact.

It was a surprise and not what they wished to hear, particularly because of the implications of the requirement for 14 days of restricted movements.

He added: “There is a small cohort of parents who are refusing to have their children tested and who get very angry at any suggestion that such testing should be undertaken as a consequence of the tracking process.

“I have been involved in these things for the past 30 years and it is very difficult to judge who is going to react badly until one gets into the call. Sometimes people will come back on a subsequent call and be very annoyed about things. They might ask why we telephoned them instead of writing to them and so on. It is a very difficult process because it involves dealing with human nature and people have to just try to see their way through it.”

Dr Kelleher had done a number of the calls, not routinely but occasionally, and on the whole the vast majority of people were very engaged and understood what was going on and participated but occasionally some people found it difficult.

While he had not had any “really difficult ones” some people had had some “extremely difficult calls” and that was a problem and a difficulty. He said they were trying to help and yet they were getting “a fair degree of abuse”.

“I have been in the centre when that has happened, and one can see the person on our side of the call visibly wilting as a consequence of the call. It is a difficult thing throughout this issue.”

He said psychological support systems were in place for members of staff who felt they had hit a wall in what was going on and needed support. People had needed that, and they had sought to support colleagues around those issues.

He agreed the biggest issue at present was non-observance in general and in parts of society not following what people were being asked to do.

“It is very difficult because that is the behavioural change we are trying to get in place to cope with the disease until we have some method of dealing with it that does not involve the significant behavioural changes we are asking for at the moment.”

Yesterday’s unscheduled Oireachtas Health Committee meeting focused on ‘Covid-19 Contact Tracing: Health Service Executive’.

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