Stark pre-Christmas warning for Department of Health that no public health department in the country had enough staff for Covid-19 response

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly was told that not a single public health department in the country was sufficiently staffed for response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He was also warned that the department in the North West of the country was “critically understaffed” and that Dublin’s public health team had a major gap at “clinical leadership level”.

The warnings came in a stark pre-Christmas message from the HSE warning that there was little “resilience” in operational plans for testing over the holiday period.

Separately, the HSE chief executive Paul Reid rejected Department suggestions of introducing self-referrals for Covid-19 testing in a letter from December 23.

In a letter to Minister Stephen Donnelly, he said the current system of using GPs to recommend testing was “the optimal model for referrals”.

He said introducing an alternative model would not be consistent with public health advice.

Mr Reid wrote: “It is also untested and therefore carries what we consider to be inordinate risk to the testing and tracing programme capacity, particularly given the current resurgence in infections.”