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'Longer work days' and 'virtual clinics' among HSE suggestions for healthcare workers with children

The HSE has acknowledged that the government childcare scheme “does not address the majority of situations”.

Image: Shutterstock

THE HSE HAS reiterated has provided a list of different ship options for healthcare workers who must also care for children.

There is no special paid childcare leave available for the Covid-19 period but a scheme put in place last month allows the partners of healthcare workers to get paid leave if they work in the public sector. 

The scheme is designed to allow the partner to take care of children while the healthcare worker attends work, but it has been criticised as being ‘actively discriminatory’ against single-parent families.

In a HSE letter published today by the Fórsa union, the HSE acknowledges that the current scheme “does not address the majority of situations”. Instead, it says employers must be “very flexible” to healthcare workers who have caring responsibilities. 

The letter states that “all forms of flexible working must be considered”, including “different hours, shifts, remote working or new duties”.

Some of the hours and shift patterns suggested are: 

  • Opposite shift rotation (where both parents are front line workers)
  • Longer work days / shifts, which allows for more days at home
  • Combination of shorter days during the week, with longer days at weekends, where other support may be available
  • Shift patterns, cognisant of risk mitigation, to assist not only with care but allowing for physical distancing
  • Swapping of days, where job sharing arrangements are in place
  • Providing expertise to new services and teams, e.g. those set up to support nursing homes, assessment hubs, etc.
  • Staggered start and finishing times, including consideration of day on day off arrangements
  • Switching to days and/or nights, where possible
  • Virtual clinics 

Available to work

A circular published by the HSE today also made reference to some of these suggestions and added that: “If employees cannot work outside the home and cannot perform their current role remotely, the employee is still to be considered as actively on duty and available to work.”

The union says some of the suggestions are “unattractive” and could in fact force essential healthcare staff to shoulder “a huge additional burden” because they’ll have no option but to take on  longer hours. 

Fórsa added that the new arrangements have “marginally increased the wriggle-room” for healthcare workers but do not go far enough. 

“Fórsa’s objective has been to find a solution that enables essential health workers to do their job – in as safe an environment as possible – with proper provision for their childcare needs. While it is a marginal improvement, this amended HSE approach still risks reducing the number of available essential workers,” Fórsa’s Éamonn Donnelly said.

“It also does little to assist the very many dedicated health workers who have now made expensive provision for alternative childcare arrangements in order to balance their home and professional responsibilities.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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