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Frontline healthcare workers should get pandemic compensation, INMO to tell Oireachtas committee

An Oireachtas committee will meet with healthcare representative organisations later this morning.

Image: Shutterstock/Boyloso

THE IRISH NURSES and Midwives Organisation (INMO) will today tell an Oireachtas committee that frontline healthcare workers should receive some compensation for their work during the pandemic.

The INMO, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) will this morning update the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health about the protections in place for frontline healthcare workers.

The INMO will call for an independent investigation into healthcare worker infection and will criticise the “slow, reluctant” decision-making processes within the HSE and the government.

  • The public health system was creaking before the pandemic – has Covid-19 broken it? Read more here on how to support Noteworthy to investigate this issue.

The organisation said it lodged a claim in November for compensatory leave due to fatigue and overworking in 2020. It said this “has not yet been responded to”.

Healthcare workers in Northern Ireland and Scotland are set to receive a £500 (€570) payment in recognition for their work during the pandemic.

In an opening statement to the committee, the INMO will say it has experienced difficulties protecting frontline healthcare workers during the pandemic.

It will criticise “slow, reluctant” decision-making, vaccine rollouts “without clear guidance or regional prioritisation”, no policy of regular testing for asymptomatic healthcare workers and last-minute decisions on student nurses and midwives.

The organisation will set out some recommendations. These include:

  • An independent investigation into healthcare worker infection.
  • HSA inspections into sights with clusters/outbreaks 
  • Increased breaks for staff due to PPE burdens
  • End the policy allowing staff to return to work before the end of self-isolation periods
  • Increase undergraduate places for nursing and midwifery
  • Mental health supports and childcare provision for frontline staff 

They will also call for additional frontline healthcare worker compensation, “for all they have done during this pandemic”. 

“The essential role that nurses and midwives play in the Irish health services has come into sharp focus during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the INMO will say.

“Nurses and midwives have faced unprecedented challenges and pressures during the pandemic, the effects of which will be felt for a long time to come.”

The organisation will say the vaccine rollout “commenced in a haphazard manner, not focused on the locations or workplaces with the highest infections or geographically bordering areas with high community infection”.

“Put simply, the vaccines’ initial distribution seemed to be based on the HSE’s administrative areas, rather than by where the virus was most prevalent,” it adds.

The INMO will cite the results of a preliminary survey showing that almost 82% of healthcare workers felt that working in the health service had somewhat or substantially negatively affected their mental health. 

61% of those surveyed last August said their working experience during the pandemic caused them to consider leaving the profession. 

The INMO will say that Ireland has “relied heavily” on recruiting internationally for nurses and midwives for two decades.

Due to travel restrictions changing this, the INMO will say staff retention needs to be increased and more work is needed to recruit people not employed at present. 

IHCA

Later this morning, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) vice-president Professor Robert Landers will also tell the committee that there is a “severe shortage” of public hospital consultants. 

“We have a serious recruitment and retention crisis with over 700 permanent hospital consultant posts, 1 in 5 of all posts, not filled as needed,” he will say. 

These vacancies and shortages “have resulted in excessive workloads being carried by understaffed medical and surgical teams to the detriment of patients”.

He will say that it is “almost inevitable” that Covid-19 outbreaks will occur in hospitals when community transmission rates are high, but more can be done to prevent infections being acquired in hospital settings.

“It is clear for infection control reasons that our pre-Covid bed occupancy rate of around 95% needs to be reduced to 80% to 85%. This would require around 2,000 additional hospital beds to maintain service levels,” he will say.

He will reference that the NHS has allocated funding for ‘long Covid’ clinics in England, and he will say that Ireland needs to examine how to replicate this for Irish patients and healthcare staff.

He will also say respondents to a IHCA survey showed people experiencing symptoms of burnout and work-related stress. 

  • Our colleagues at Noteworthy want to investigate measures being taken to tackle a pandemic-induced mental health crisis. You can help fund them here

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“Doctors want to work in a public health service with appropriate staffing levels, properly resourced teams and the required equipment and facilities to provide high quality, safe care to patients,” Landers will say.

“Even before Covid there were not enough doctors and consultants to do this.”

He will say there is a “high risk” of increased mental health issues impacting healthcare staff when the pandemic eases.

“Returning to the stressful overstretched ‘business as usual’ model is not an option if we are to avoid an even worse workforce crisis than was the case pre-Covid.”

The committee and its witnesses will appear remotely via video link from 10am this morning. 

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