THERE has been an outbreak of Covid-19 among staff at Caredoc’s call centre and daytime administration office at St Dympna’s Hospital, Carlow in recent weeks. The Nationalist understands that around 35 staff, including nurses, have tested positive for coronavirus at the out-of-hours GP service for nine counties, including Carlow and the southeast.
However, Caredoc says it wishes to assure the public that none of its services, including its treatment centre in Carlow, are affected by the current wave of Covid-19. Staff have been deployed from other assessment centres to ensure services are delivered as normal.
Staff are being asked to wear masks from the moment they leave their vehicles and on the phone, while blanket testing is also being carried out.
The call centre is in a separate building to the Caredoc treatment centre.
The Nationalist understands there is frustration and anger among some employees, who claim they were not informed of the scale of the outbreak. This is disputed by Caredoc. Staff who have spoken to The Nationalist believe the first case occurred around St Stephen’s Day and they went into work not knowing there was an outbreak. Some staff had been working as late as 3 January without knowing. It is understood that cases among staff have resulted in the detection of further outbreaks in households.
Caredoc management say the first cases among staff were reported on 31 December and that staff were kept informed.
In an email sent to staff on 3 January, which has been seen by ***The Nationalist***, management confirms cases among staff at Caredoc.
It reads: ‘It is imperative that we all double our efforts in preventing the spread of the virus. You will note the air-conditioning is off purely as a precaution; we are encouraging staff to keep the windows open to increase ventilation. Please wear additional layers of clothing to keep warm during this time in the call centres, and nursing uniforms are not a requirement until further notice.
‘Staff are asked to wear facemasks from the time they leave their vehicles and also while on the telephone. Remember to wash your hands and sanitise with alcogel in between, especially when entering and leaving the kitchen. Avoid spending time in the kitchen. You are all very diligent in cleaning down your desks, keyboards and phones at the start and end of shifts, so keep this up. Needless to say at this stage, you must maintain social distancing guidance.
‘We have asked for a blanket testing for all staff in the Carlow call assessment centre (excluding those who have already been tested).
‘Some triage staff are working remotely, but it is not possible for other “take and dispatch” calls to be done as the phone lines are in St Dympna’s.’
In a statement to The Nationalist, Caredoc says the last few weeks have been the busiest it has ever faced.
‘Since the Monday before Christmas, 21 December, until this morning, 8 January, the Caredoc service has managed 41,820 patients. It is the busiest time Caredoc has ever experienced, with a large percentage of cases being Covid-19 related. There has been an exponential increase in Covid-19 cases in the community, with daily numbers increasing to 7,836 and a new variant of Covid-19.
‘HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry says: “There is early evidence emerging that the new variant played a role in the rapid increase since Christmas.”
‘Caredoc was notified of the first positive case of a staff member on 31 December. Staff were fully informed and contact was immediately made with the HSE South East, the director of public health and the guidance received was followed. Communication within Caredoc and with external bodies in relation to the incidence of Covid-19 has been swift, comprehensive and clear.’
The service adds that a blanket testing programme for staff is in place, in line with public health recommendations, and deep cleaning is being carried out.
The statement continued: ‘There is no doubt that the weeks ahead will be challenging for all of those working in healthcare and in the community as well as the general public. Professor Nolan has indicated “we are clearly reporting exceptionally high levels of disease and the fastest rate of growth. We have a considerable way to go to suppress the virus”. It is vital that everyone follows the guidance of Dr Tony Holohan and his expert team to reduce the community spread of Covid-19.
‘Finally, we again wish to reassure the public that Caredoc continues to be committed to ensuring that all its services are delivered as normal.’