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50 nurses in each of the last two weeks have contracted Covid-19 - INMO

Phil Ni Sheaghdha says PPE has improved but greater supports are needed.

Phil Ní Sheaghdha leaving Leinster House in July.
Phil Ní Sheaghdha leaving Leinster House in July.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE INMO’s GENERAL Secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha has told the Oireachtas Health Committee that, for each of the last two weeks, 50 nurses have been infected with Covid-19 while at work.

Ní Sheaghdha said this represents a “very high figure” and again repeated the union’s call for Covid-19 to be made an occupational illness.

Speaking to TDs and Senators, Ni Sheaghdha said that PPE for nurses has improved since the earlier stages of the pandemic but she remained critical of supports available for nurses who contract the virus. 

She said that nurses contracting Covid-19 can mean a “high level” of nurse absenteeism from work and that many are absent for up to four months.

“There is a crisis in the health service because of the high number of healthcare workers who are infected with Covid-19. And of those we know, that is increasing up to 34% are nurses,” Ní Sheaghdha said.

So we have a high level of absence. Many of our members are reporting absences stretching into 16 and 17 weeks, particularly in areas where they have been directly caring for Covid patients.  

Ní Sheaghdha said the union is asking that the HSE re-examine policies that mean nurses return to work “even if they have been a close contact”. 

“Currently we are critical and we remain critical of the supports available to them when they are infected and also to their protections at work, “ Ní Sheaghdha added. 

PPE has improved and the supply of PPE has improved but for the last two weeks 50 nurses each week have been infected at work from Covid-19, and that’s a very high figure.

The general secretary also told the committee that the nursing workforce is 91% female and that, should there be any decision about the closure of schools, “thought must be put into childcare needs”. 

“We can’t have what happened earlier in the pandemic in March and April where that was basically left to chance,” she said. 

The INMO has about 40,000 members and Ní Sheaghdha was welcoming of plans for additional hospital bed capacity announced in the Budget, adding that the committee remember that “each time you hear the word bed you have to think the word nurse”.

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The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which represents almost 7,000 medical professionals, was also before the committee and Dr Matthew Sadlier said there are too few doctors to meet the demands of Covid and non-Covid care. 

“We presently cannot recruit enough doctors and we cannot keep hold of many of the doctors that we do have. We have seen increasing trends of high emigration by doctors for the past number of years and we can say with some degree of certainty that that trend will continue, ” he said. 

The IMO’s chief executive Susan Clyne also raised similar concerns: “There are 500 vacant consultant posts leading to growing waiting lists, now at over 840,000, which in turn leads to delayed diagnosis and treatment for patients, which in turn leads to increased mortality. Ireland has the lowest number of specialists per head of population and there is not a single specialty that has the required number actually working in it.” 

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Rónán Duffy

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