The HSE is drastically reducing its Covid-19 contact tracing operations, with staff working through a contractor being asked to apply for a limited number of positions in another area.
Recruitment agency CPL told contact tracers this week that the number of staff required to seek contracts in the future would be ‘significantly reduced’ and encouraged workers to apply for new roles in a new project corresponding to “the range of skills acquired by contact tracers”.
The HSE said there were 574 staff working in contact tracing at the end of April – up from a peak of more than 800 during the worst wave of the pandemic in January – as the incidence of the disease has fallen in recent years month.
The reduction is due to staff moving within the HSE or leaving the health service and through “the exploitation of technology”, the HSE said. The remaining staff are working seven days a week at four contact tracing centers in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin.
An HSE spokeswoman said it was working with the Department of Health on a future plan for its test and trace operations, but was unable to say how many contact tracers would ultimately be retained.
“Once this is finalized, we will engage with stakeholders,” she said.
This week, CPL told contract staff, whose employment ends on June 30, that there were a number of “team leader” or “fifth year” jobs available and “initially 57 roles third year” with a project based in the offices of the South Heuston district. near the HSE headquarters in Dublin.
Most contact tracers are in “third year” roles. Staff must apply and undertake interviews for the roles, which will run until October 28.
A contact tracer working outside Dublin has expressed anger that contact tracing staff, who had worked during the most difficult times of the pandemic, have been offered new roles working for the HSE as long as they were willing to move to Dublin to take on the role.
“We’ve had the privilege of talking to almost every family in the country, trying to protect the country and the health services during a massive uncharted emergency, and it feels like we’ve been thrown in the trash can of the job without appreciation or help,” says the plotter.
CPL told staff in an emailed circular that the HSE was developing a transition plan to move from a “high volume test and trace system to a monitoring-based system, while maintaining a level of resilience to manage possible future overvoltages”.
He said the HSE was finalizing the plan to retain “a proportion of our current staff” who can contact the trace in accordance with public health guidelines, “while balancing the current sustained reduction in the number of Covid-19 cases and the subsequent decrease in contact tracing volume”.
“In practical terms, this means that we plan to retain some of our staff on new contracts who will undertake similar on-call/office work on behalf of the HSE, but will be available to resume their role in contact tracing if this is necessary”, indicates the circular of the CPL.
The new roles involve calling members of the public, handling confidential and sensitive information, and recording information on a customer relationship management system.
The seven-day rolling average of new daily Covid-19 cases, confirmed by official PCR tests, rose to 1,870 on Friday, from 750 a week ago, but is significantly down from a high of 22 480 in January as the incidence of the disease has fallen sharply in recent months.