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Dublin: 9°C Monday 29 November 2021

Isolating healthcare workers still required to return to work early if asymptomatic to avoid staff shortages

Asymptomatic healthcare staff can currently return to work, despite being close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case.

Image: Shutterstock/ToKa74

HEALTHCARE STAFF DESIGNATED as close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case could still be required to return to work early if asymptomatic, even as the pressures on Irish hospitals drop. 

The HSE confirmed to TheJournal.ie that the policy, known as a ‘derogation’, remains in place. 

“This guidance is reviewed weekly and there is no plan to remove the requirement for derogation of essential workers at present,” a spokesperson said. 

Under the guidance, in certain circumstances healthcare workers can return to work if asymptomatic – under close monitoring – even if they have been a close contact of a confirmed or suspected Covid-19 case.

The measure was introduced during the crisis in a bid to avoid vast swathes of the workforce being forced to self-isolate at a time of unprecedented pressure on the Irish health service. 

A HSE document describing the rationale behind the policy states:

Many areas are experiencing a shortage of HCWs as a result of COVID-19 and the requirement for HCW to self isolate or restrict movements. This measure is in place to mitigate the risks in the direct provision of services for patient in critical areas within services while also ensuring on-going staff safety.

There have been some concerns, however, that this guidance is not being followed to the letter. One nurse told TheJournal.ie that in their hospital, staff who are close contacts remain unable to self-isolate due to staffing pressures. 

From Monday, Covid-19 restrictions will be significantly loosened after hospitalisation rates and the number of people in ICU dropped. 

However, there is likely to remain significant concern that any spike, following the slackening of restrictions, could quickly threaten to overwhelm Irish hospitals. 

TheJournal.ie has previously reported how, as the coronavirus crisis unfolded, guidance to staff swiftly shifted to ensure that staffing pressures were largely alleviated. 

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Healthcare workers make up a significant proportion of the total number of Covid-19 cases, with over 7,000 cases confirmed. 

Current advice has not been updated since 6 May. 

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