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Staff sick leave and historic data anonymisation led to Covid-19 reporting delay – report

The historic practice of anonymising healthcare worker data was a contributing factor to delays in the uploading of Covid-19 positive test results concerning healthcare workers at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital (MMUH) to the computerised infectious disease reporting (CIDR) system, according to a HSE report.

The sudden absence of “senior personnel” due to unexpected sick leave at the Public Health Department (PHD) East was also noted in the report as contributing to the delay. 

The hospital confirmed that it completed contact tracing for all Covid-positive staff members within 24 hours of a positive test result. 

“The delays in uploading information to CIDR did not delay any critical public health actions,” concludes the report, which was completed in May. 

The report was commissioned by the HSE’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry to establish the facts relating to the delay, which resulted in a large batch of 244 cases being uploaded to the CIDR system in one go.

The cases were then reported as part of the daily national Covid-19 numbers report on 14 May, sparking questions from media due to the spike in cases. 

The report explains that “the original issue arose due to the historic practice of the MMUH to anonymise healthcare worker details at the time of their laboratory test results”. 

“As these personal details were held by the hospital’s Occupational Health Department, the laboratory staff at MMUH were unable to upload the results to the CIDR surveillance system with their accompanying names and dates of birth. 

“The approach taken by the MMUH is intended to protect confidentiality and respect the dignity of the staff being tested. This approach was introduced to encourage staff to seek a laboratory test when concerns of an infection presented.”

The issue of uploading the remaining MMUH staff cases to CIDR was not concluded until 11 May . 

The report makes two recommendations, including an instruction that the HSE’s National Director Acute Operations Mr Liam Woods write to all Hospital Groups to ensure they have a process in place to ensure any future impediments to the uploading of Covid-19 test results are immediately identified and resolved. 

According to the second recommendation: “The National Clinical Director, Health Protection should request all public health departments to check that data on Covid-19 cases in healthcare workers which is being entered onto the HSE’s contact tracing and management system has also been uploaded onto CIDR.

“If a problem is identified, the public health department must immediately contact the relevant hospital laboratory to resolve the reporting issue. If it is not possible to resolve reporting difficulties this way, the issue should be rapidly escalated to the National Clinical Director, Health Protection by telephone and email.”

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