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The Medical and Dental Consultants Association (MDCA) has welcomed the report of the rapid testing group chaired by Prof Mark Ferguson.
The report was backed by a majority of the rapid testing group. It was not supported by its two experts in public health – Dr Lorraine Doherty, HSE National Clinical Director, Health Protection, and Dr Darina O’Flanagan, former Director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre and Special Adviser to the national public health emergency team (NPHET).
According to the MDCA, which has formed to represent full-time private practice medical and dental consultants, rapid testing (screening) of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people in targeted populations using lateral flow antigen tests (LFAT) can assist with Ireland’s safe emergence from the pandemic.
“Rather than replacing any element of the established public health testing framework, LFAT can complement and augment those existing systems and processes. LFAT can identify as yet undiscovered pockets of Covid-19 infection in our communities, prevent outbreaks and allow crucial aspects of society to reopen more safely in a managed fashion (#TestToReopen).”
The MDCA said it is cognisant of and respects “concerns over low sensitivity and unintended behavioural consequences as a result of LFAT screening programmes”.
However, it said LFAT has adequate sensitivity for the identification of infectious individuals, based on the ability for repeated testing (x 2/3/week) and the advantage of receiving actionable results within minutes.
The recommendation for formation of an “agile rapid test knowledge group” is a key aspect of the report and should inform all elements of education and communication while acting as a source of information for all entities to use in future implementation of post-pilot/feasibility study LFAT screening programmes.
“Any such programmes should rely on a good communications strategy and the empowerment of citizens and employers to play their own part in our national recovery. Modelling data has demonstrated the effectiveness of LFAT screening programmes with 50 per cent participation and initiatives employed now, should where possible, be based on the principle of voluntary participation,” according to the Association.
“LFAT-enabled reopening and maintained opening of all schools (#TestToEnable) should be a priority along with deployment in all healthcare and residential settings (#TestToProtect). Scalable pilot studies and feasibility programmes in other crucial aspects of society (higher education; all forms of work, manufacturing and production; hospitality; aviation, sport; culture and arts etc) should also be implemented, with focus on young people (at least risk and last to be vaccinated) as matters of priority.”
The MDCA said it is urging Government, State agencies such as the HSE, the Department of Health, including the NPHET and all other relevant Government departments to implement the core recommendations of the Rapid Testing Group Report.
“It is critical that pilot studies and feasibility programs be adopted at scale and with immediate effect such that learnings and experience can be leveraged on a national scale as soon as possible. MDCA supports the following policies: Test to protect the vulnerable. Test to enable a return to school, work, university, aviation, sport, culture and arts. Test to reopen our society and reduce our reliance on stringent restrictions.”