Concerns raised over lack of cross border contact tracing

The HSE says public health officials from both sides of the border meet a number of times a week to ensure co-operation in tackling Covid-19.

It comes as concerns have been raised about the lack of cross border contact tracing taking place.

The HSE says Senior Public Health Officials from north and south meet regularly to ensure any issues or incidents related to Covid-19 are “managed correctly”.

Carrickmacross GP Dr Shane Corr this week raised concerns about a lack of contact tracing being carried out on cross border contacts.

On Twitter he said “No cross border contact tracing whatsoever after 7 months of pandemic”.

This morning he again took to social media to say he has two Covid positive cases who contacted his surgery directly as they were close contacts of people from Northern Ireland who also tested positive.

He said “no formal cross border contact tracing is being done”.

The HSE today told Shannonside Northern Sound that health authorities both sides of the border notify their opposite numbers of any cross border contacts of positive cases.

It also says there are “informal” processes in place where health officials would contact their counterparts in the other jurisdiction to notify them of contacts.

However, in its statement the HSE says “there is a difference in contact tracing policy” north and south where all close contacts are contacted and offered a Covid test in Ireland whereas in Northern Ireland only close contacts who have symptoms are contacted to be offered a Covid test.

STATEMENT FROM THE HSE

Based on information published by the Public Health Agency Northern Ireland (PHANI), all medical practitioners are legally bound to report all cases of notifiable diseases promptly to the Director of Public Health.  Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has been a notifiable disease since 28 February 2020.  As part of Public Health Risk Assessment, close contacts of confirmed cases of COVID-19 can be identified, some of whom are not resident in the country.  To remain appropriately compliant with data protection requirements in Republic of Ireland and United Kingdom & Northern Ireland, the PHANI sends all cross-border notifications of confirmed cases and details of close contacts directly to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).  This information is then sent to the relevant Department of Public Health and, where appropriate, this information is uploaded to the national Contact Management Programme platform to facilitate timely testing and tracing in the Republic of Ireland.
There is a reciprocal relationship in place for sending notifications (of confirmed cases and close contacts) from the Republic of Ireland.  Furthermore, there is an informal process in place, as the United Kingdom & Northern Ireland are still part of the European Union, where staff in from either jurisdiction (i.e. Department of Public Health, HSE North-East/North-West and PHANI) would contact their counterparts to alert them of ongoing issues.  This is the current standard practice around notification of communicable diseases and requirements for contact tracing.  The volume of this interactions varies annually, but has increased with on-going COVID19 pandemic.
There is a difference in contact tracing policy between Ireland and Northern Ireland in that in Ireland all close contacts are contacted and offered a Covid test whereas in Northern Ireland only close contacts who have symptoms are contacted to be offered a Covid test.
 
Senior Public Health officials from both sides of the border meet a number of times per week to ensure that any issues or incidents are managed correctly.   
[1] Public Health Agency Northern Ireland (PHANI) 2020.  Notification of infectious diseases.  Available URL: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/directorate-public-health/health-protection/notifications-infectious-diseases [ https://scanmail.trustwave.com/?c=17268&d=_9aQ32sFaapoI1k_6RkupVQDZJqzwtjziY1BKZVt2Q&s=343&u=https%3a%2f%2fscanner.topsec.com%2f%3fd%3d76%26u%3dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.publichealth.hscni.net%252Fdirectorate-public-health%252Fhealth-protection%252Fnotifications-infectious-diseases%26t%3d853850c43dac92ead2cceab52575ee14df630da3 ]  (Accessed: 24 September 2020).  [2] [ https://scanmail.trustwave.com/?c=17268&d=_9aQ32sFaapoI1k_6RkupVQDZJqzwtjziY4Tfp1ojw&s=343&u=https%3a%2f%2fscanner.topsec.com%2f%3fd%3d76%26u%3dhttps%253A%252F%252Fadmin.prgloo.com%252F%2523_ftnref2%26t%3de97f4cb3f72a56a8c11c6c664ed34a4e222c430f ]  Public Health Agency Northern Ireland (PHANI) 2020. Coronavirus (COVID19) Information.  Available URL: http://www.hscbusiness.hscni.net/services/3115.htm [ https://scanmail.trustwave.com/?c=17268&d=_9aQ32sFaapoI1k_6RkupVQDZJqzwtjziYVHf5Vu3g&s=343&u=https%3a%2f%2fscanner.topsec.com%2f%3fd%3d76%26u%3dhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.hscbusiness.hscni.net%252Fservices%252F3115.htm%26t%3da6197084527360b40f823d6c1587fb4d605e315b ]