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Be On Call For Ireland: Only 209 workers given role in health service while 1,600 remain in a 'pool'

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said that those who applied did so “in good faith” and that these staff will be needed ahead of the winter season.

Image: Shutterstock/Suwit Rattiwan

OF THE 73,000 people who applied for the government’s Be On Call For Ireland campaign to recruit healthcare workers, only 209 of them have been placed into a role in the health service.

Figures from the HSE show that 2,773 people passed an interview and indicated they were available for work since the initiative was launched in March.

Of these, 1,639 people remain available within the “pool” to take up a role in the health service, and a further 720 are “job-ready” after passing the clearance procedure.

Separately, a further 1,975 were recruited across four of the seven hospital groups in Ireland to assist in combating Covid-19.

The figures were released to Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson David Cullinane, who told TheJournal.ie that people applied to the Be On Call initiative in “good faith” and the HSE should really utilise the large number of candidates ready and willing to start a job ahead of the busy winter season.

“The goodwill from those that responded should be matched by government action,” he said. “It hasn’t been so far. People have been brought through the clearance process but people designated as job-ready haven’t been brought into the system.

When we raise the issue of increasing capacity, we’re told they don’t have the staff. We have 1,639 frontline workers available.

Be On Call for Ireland

The ‘Be On Call’ campaign was launched on St Patrick’s Day as Ireland worked to stem Covid-19′s spread. Within a week of its launch, 60,000 people had applied. 

“Our priority is to build capacity to meet a demand that we are working to assess,” HSE National Director of Human Resources Anne Marie Hoey said in late March. 

“We may not know where the jobs are so we cannot give this information yet. We are focusing on getting new staff ‘job ready’ so they can meet the demand as it arises.”

Figures obtained by TheJournal.ie show that The HSE has so far spent over €600,000 on the initiative.

They show that 40 recruiters were paid over €1,000 per week by the HSE between 17 March and 1 June, alone. An additional €72,000 was spent on “digital developments” as part of the campaign. 

Of the 73,000 who applied for the Be On Call initiative, 44,000 of them self-identified as administrative/support/volunteers.

“It should be noted that significant numbers who applied for the ‘Be on Call for Ireland’ did not have experience in healthcare, however, in a time of national crisis it was heartening for the general public, and indeed the health services, to see the level of goodwill towards supporting the health and social care sectors,” the HSE told Cullinane.

The remaining 29,000 were whittled down to people not already working in the health service but were fully qualified and available to work and this was whittled down to under 3,000 candidates.

However, several hundred people have discontinued the process and are no longer available, citing reasons such as returning to work, caring responsibilities and health concerns.

Breaking down the numbers of the 209 people who are now assigned or have been placed in services, 89 of them have been placed in nursing and midwifery positions.

A further 260 of them are in the pool waiting for a role, while 687 originally passed an interview and declared themselves available. 

Just 16 doctors have been placed in services. The current pool available is 341 from an original 406 doctors who passed an interview and said they were available. 

A further 38 healthcare assistants have been recruited, with 228 still available. 

In all, 247 dentists passed an interview and indicated the were available. Not one of them has been assigned, and neither has any of the 14 dental nurses and 39 dental hygienists.

Of the 137 physiotherapists who passed the process, six of them have been deployed.

The HSE emphasised that as well as this initiative, it also recruited heavily through other means during the crisis.

Just under 2,000 workers have been recruited across the Ireland East Hospital Group, the University of Limerick Hospital Group, Saolta Hospital Group and the South-South West Hospital Group.

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Strain on healthcare staff

Cullinane said that it’s vital that the staff who’ve made themselves available are utilised.

“We’ve a plan to re-open the schools,” he said. “But we need a plan for the health service. This is a crisis like never before, we need a plan on a scale like never before.”

He cited the recent examples from frontline workers of the fatigue they’re dealing with having been dealing with the crisis on the ground in recent months.

Appearing before the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid Response last month, a 27-year-old nurse Siobhán Murphy gave evidence of how inadequate staffing levels and “being completely overwhelmed” with the ‘expanding’ role of the nurse, “extreme burnout” as well as “overexposure” to Covid-19 contributed to her contracting the virus.

Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha has called for action to be taken so that healthcare workers are not overwhelmed and fatigued again in the event of a second wave of Covid-19.

This includes increasing staffing levels so that if a healthcare worker falls ill, they can be replaced – that same committee heard that it wouldn’t be unusual for one nurse to have around 30 patients.

“It is simply unfair it is inhumane to ask them to go back to that level of crazy staffing,” she said.

The burnout faced by healthcare workers has also been emphasised by acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn who had said we should do our best to adhere to the public health guidelines for their sake, also.

Cullinane said: “We’ve spoken to the INMO. Their message is that ‘our staff are not close to burnout, they’re at burnout, they can’t give anymore’. 

There’ll be serious problems if the same staff have to carry what needs to be carried [in terms of a second wave]. For all these reasons, people who responded in a positive and patriotic way [for Be On Call], to be left in a poll and not be assigned… it’s crazy.

About the author:

Seán Murray & Cónal Thomas

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