The chief executive officer of the HSE has been requested by the Health Minister, Simon Harris, to put together a report on a number of issues surrounding the management of Covid-19 and non Covid-19 patients in Mayo University Hospital.
The development follows on from Fianna Fáil TD and deputy party leader, Dara Calleary, raising a number of concerns with the Minister in the Dáil on Wednesday.
Speaking in the chamber, Deputy Calleary said: "I acknowledge the 1,615 people who have passed away. While this has been a very significant week, we can never forget these people or their families. I also acknowledge the vast work done across the country but today I focus on my own county, Mayo, with the work done by health workers, carers, home helps, family carers and other professionals, which has been immense and under hugely challenging circumstances.
"There are specific difficulties which I have spoken to the Minister about. I would like his reviews. There are difficulties in Mayo University Hospital in particular. Staff have contacted me and other public representatives on the continuing, up to last week, crossover of staff between Covid and non-Covid units. Staff are moving between units, traversing through one unit to get to the other.
"Second, they have raised the inadequate physical space in the hospital between the Covid unit and the non-Covid unit, which makes this crossing over between units inevitable.
"Third, they have raised the absence of an isolation unit in Mayo University Hospital and also the district hospitals in Ballina, Belmullet and Swinford. Are there plans, as we catch our breath from what may only be the first wave, to invest in capital facilities in hospitals across Mayo and the rest of the country, looking at the lessons learned in recent months and putting investment in place to ensure that these hospitals are ready for what may be an ongoing Covid situation?
"What are the testing levels of staff at Mayo University Hospital as well as all district hospitals and health facilities across Mayo? Some weeks ago, great effort was put in. Has that continued? Has it been updated? What percentage of staff at Mayo University Hospital were tested?
"Finally, there is the matter of derogation. An issue has arisen across the country where HSE occupational health may advise someone who is defined as a close contact not to work, but their line manager can ask or derogate them to work. What are the rules around that policy?"
Minister Harris responded to Deputy Calleary, saying: "I thank Deputy Calleary for raising the issue and join him in acknowledging the passing of many of our citizens from Covid-19. I often feel somewhat uneasy when we speak about progress in statistics and figures but we are not talking about them in a vacuum. This is a virus that has caused a lot of tragedy to an awful lot of people and we think of them.
"I thank Deputy Calleary for raising the matters on Mayo hospital. He was in direct contact with me on these issues. I am advised by Saolta hospital group that appropriate control measures are in place in Mayo University Hospital for Covid-19. As is the case across hospitals, Mayo University Hospital has adjusted how care is delivered to patients as well as continuously implementing updated national advice.
"Actions taken include streaming patients into Covid and non-Covid pathways. This did require some physical changes to the hospital, including a new entrance. Where possible, patients are treated in single rooms. However, given the infrastructure of the hospital, it is not always possible to provide single rooms for patients, which was the point the Deputy made about isolation facilities.
"Patients who attend the hospital through the emergency department are also separated into suspect and non-suspect Covid-19 patients. Suspected Covid-19 patients who attend the emergency department are tested in rapid turnaround time.
"While every effort is made to ensure patients are streamed separately, occasionally it will happen that a person in a designated non-Covid space will turn out to be positive, but he or she may not have shown any symptoms.
"Patients who develop symptoms consistent with Covid-19 on a ward are tested rapidly and transferred to a Covid-19 ward if diagnosed positive. The hospital has separated its clinical staff into teams to minimise contact and to reduce the risk of healthcare worker and patient infection. Again, that is all based on the national guidance provided at that time.
"Saolta has provided executive microbiology and infectious disease input into the management of Covid-19 in Mayo, but in light of the serious issues Deputy Calleary raises, I will now ask the CEO of the HSE for a report on the matters he raised with me, and that report to include information on the testing levels of staff.
"My understanding is that the national public health emergency team is likely to broaden the case definition for testing at its meeting tomorrow. It is certainly something under consideration. I will also ask specifically about the supports for the district hospitals in Ballina, Swinford and across Mayo, and for a view on the derogation. I will get the Deputy a written report from the CEO."