The Health Service Executive has responded to reports of complaints and upset among some of its Covid-19 contact tracing staff, over a decision to defer plans for 100 promotional posts and also a change to working hours.

In correspondence seen by RTÉ News, the Contact Management Programme (CMP) told staff on 13 July, that due to the rapid rise in Covid-19 cases, and future modelling for cases, it wanted to upgrade contact tracers, on a temporary basis, from Call 2 roles to Call 1 roles.

Call 2 roles involve collecting information about close contacts, while Call 1 roles involve informing people they had tested positive for Covid-19 and giving information on how they can protect themselves and others.

Call 1 roles are for clinical staff. They are more complex, take longer and attract higher pay, up to over €47,000 a year.

There are also Call 3 roles, which involve contacting close contacts.

Around 1,000 staff work in the contact tracing system.

"At this juncture, where we are faced with the threat of a substantial increase in demand, it is important that we draw on our valuable existing resources to ensure capacity and a safe and robust service," the contact tracing programme stated in its email on 13 July.

At that point, it said it was dealing with 600 cases a day.

It is understood that the contact tracing programme was also losing Call 1 staff, many of them nurses, as some opted to go back to the wider health service to work.

In mid-July, the contact tracing programme sought expressions of interest for the upgrade posts.

However, on 12 August, by email, staff were told it had been decided not to proceed with the upgrade posts at the present time and it thanked staff for their expressions of interest for the roles.

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Some contact tracing staff said there was "huge upset" with what had transpired as some people had put in extra work to get the posts.

They also claimed there were moves by the contact tracing programme to merge Call 1 and Call 2 roles, into a Call 2a role, with staff required to fulfil these tasks.

The contact tracing programme also decided to change working hours from 9 August - from 8am to 8pm to 9am to 7.15 pm - it is claimed, without consultation.

The programme said the change in hours was in order to "optimise the number of staff available during the hours in which patients answer calls."

The employment contracts for contact tracers are outsourced by the HSE to a private firm - CPL Healthcare.

In a statement to RTÉ News, the HSE said that following an increase in Covid-19 case numbers, it had moved to implement surge measures within its contact tracing system.

"Although we regret that this has meant we are unable to proceed with the expression of Interest process at this time, the decision was made in the public interest," it said.

The HSE contact tracing centres are located in Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Galway.