HSE awards contract for STI test kit to UK company amid syphilis outbreak

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The Health Service Executive (HSE) awarded a contract worth 1.2 million euros for an online service for testing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) without prior competitive bidding, following a national epidemic of syphilis .

The HSE said it awarded the contract as a measure to address a “real emergency” for public health.

The award of the contract to UK company SH: 24 follows strong demand for the pilot service, which was launched in Co Cork, Co Kerry and Co Dublin this year.

Thousands of orders resulted in the temporary shutdown of service, due to what the HSE called “unprecedented demand”.

The pilot was extended in May, when utilities were significantly reduced by the pandemic and the HSE cyberattack.

The service includes free home STI tests that check for chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphilis and HIV. The results are given by phone or SMS. If follow-up testing or treatment is required, these are provided free of charge by public HSE clinics.

The HSE has repeatedly warned of an outbreak of syphilis and has called a national team to deal with the problem.

The latest figures from the Health Protection Monitoring Center show that the 643 cases of syphilis reported this year is a 44% increase over last year. The Co Dublin, Co Kildare and Co Wicklow region recorded the highest number of cases, followed by Co Cork and Co Kerry.

According to the HSE, untreated syphilis can cause serious problems to the heart, brain, eyes, and nervous system. Complications can take years to develop.

People can infect their partners without knowing it, as the early stages can be asymptomatic. Statistics show an increase in the number of cases in women, although it is mainly seen in men.

The awarding of the new contract to SH: 24 comes at the foot of the “extreme urgency” of the epidemic.

The HSE said the contract is only intended to meet its immediate needs and that SH: 24’s systems for deploying ITS test kits are already in place, the “only company able to provide the service would be the incumbent operator “.

A spokesperson for HSE said: “Setting up an online platform could take two to three months and, as the incumbent already has an online platform, a process of tendering would not be competitive. “

When awarding the contract last month, the HSE said the tests were available free of charge to people over the age of 17 living in the counties of Cavan, Cork, Dublin, Kerry, Kildare, Louth, Meath, Monaghan and Wicklow.

Announcing health provisions in the 2022 budget last month, Frank Feighan, Minister of Health, said an additional € 3 million would be provided for the nationwide roll-out of a screening service in STI line in the coming year.

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