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'Surprisingly old-fashioned': Union says government childcare offer 'does nothing' for vast majority of nurses

The INMO pointed out that many of its members are lone parents or have partners who are also working on the frontline.

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THE GOVERNMENT’S OFFER to address the childcare challenges of healthcare workers ‘actively discriminates’ against single parents and will not help the vast majority of nurses, their union has claimed.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar revealed a plan to give paid leave to the partners of healthcare workers  if their partners work in the public sector – but not in the health sector. He said this has been approved by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and can be actioned in the next couple of weeks. 

However he said NPHET had reservations about child minders going into the homes of healthcare workers and this will only be considered as an option after 5 May. 

“They’re not happy for us to do it right now,” he said. 

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) levelled strong criticism at the proposal, pointing out that many nurses and midwives are lone parents, have partners who are also working on the frontline or do not have partners who are in the public sector. 

INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, described it as a “surprisingly old-fashioned concept of family needs”. 

“For most of our members with childcare needs, this is worse than irrelevant. It actively discriminates against single parents and many modern families, who will still have the same problems in relation to childcare provision. It cannot be ignored that over 90% of our members are women,” she said. 

“We have been seeking a proper solution on behalf of our members for well over a month. We have been bounced back and forth between departments, given endless deadlines for decisions by NPHET.”

Ní Sheaghda said those who can find childcare are “paying over the odds” with some healthcare workers “practically paying to go to work in a high-risk environment”. 

The union has called for a package including options of:

  • Direct in-home provision of childcare
  • Reimbursement for childcare paid for during lockdown
  • Reimbursement for annual leave, or full pay with leave, for those who cannot attend work due to their childcare responsibilities.

“Ireland’s nurses and midwives are risking their lives to provide care. The very least that the state can do is take care of their children when they go to work. Instead, our members are told to simply get on with it – forced to choose between caring for patients or their children.”

Asked about the possibility of further provisions for childcare workers before 5 May, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said any other recommendations made by NPHET on this issue will be for the period after that date. 

He said any decisions made at that stage will be conditional on the path of the disease at that time. 

“And it’s conditional on the preparations that are happening intensively at the moment within the HSE to build the sampling, testing and contact tracing capacity so can have sufficient assurance we can pick up new cases in an environment where we’re easing restrictions” he said.

Dr Holohan said it was not accurate to say he had “concerns” about childcare workers going into the homes of healthcare workers. 

“The current phase we’re in at the moment is to, as much as possible, maximise the right kinds of behaviour in the population. That’s why we keep emphasising the importance of hand washing, respiratory etiquette, social distancing and so on, and responsiveness to and an awareness of the kinds of symptoms that are important. And then a range of other measures that we have in our society designed to separate us as much as possible.”

He said NPHET will consider, before taking any step, whether it will increase the level of circulation and the contact between people that increases the risk of infection.

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