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'There is a role for everyone': Minister says HSE need non-medical staff too and you'll be paid

Harris said emergency measures under new laws will only be in place until 9 May.

Simon Harris said extra capacity will come from private hospitals.
Simon Harris said extra capacity will come from private hospitals.
Image: Sam Boal

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has said the HSE is looking to hire non-medical professionals through its Call for Ireland recruitment drive and new hires will be paid.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke programme, Harris said as of yesterday afternoon as  24,000 had signed up to the call, and the numbers have continued to rise overnight.

As the Irish health service gears up to deal with the expected substantial rise in cases of Covid-19 across the country, the minister launched a massive recruitment drive for doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff.

The HSE also needs the help of non-clinical workers, said the minister. These people will be paid and will either be given permanent roles in the health service or three-month contracts.

Click here if you’re interested in finding more information about the recruitment drive.

“We need more than just clinical skills. So we’re also asking people who might have admin skills, who might be able to help with contact tracing to come forward as well,” he said, adding that people can apply online and someone will be in touch.

“There is a role for everybody. In fact, there may even be some roles that people will be able to do remotely. And remember people are going to get sick of things that aren’t the coronavirus during this period of time. We’re going to need people working in primary care, we may well need people checking in remotely on some of our older citizens that are more vulnerable people and help provide them with advice over the phone.

“So, the advice and the appeal to everybody is if you think you can help. Please apply. We will then interview you over the phone, and have a conversation about what role you might be able to play,” said Harris. 

Workers will be paid

When asked whether these people would be paid for their work, he said:

“They’d be paid. We’re looking to hire people, and actually in many cases we’ll be offering people full-time permanent jobs, because you know when it comes to roles like doctors and nurses we need more. We’ll be offering people contracts of at least three-months duration. And on top of that, of course, there’d be many thousands volunteering, but no, we’re in the business of hiring. We’re open for business, and the only constraint will be the availability of people, and not finances.”

Harris said he has been overwhelmed by the response of medical professionals who currently don’t work in the Irish health system signing up to help.

“Over 1,000 nurses yesterday said, ‘I want to help, I want to come back’, and a lot of these people are people who perhaps haven’t been in clinical practice for a few years, they might be people who retired,” he said, stating that doctors are also re-registering. 

Doctors returning from overseas

Doctors have also been returning from overseas, said the minister. Mentioning to cases,  Harris said Irish doctors from Perth have decided to come home and an Irish GP in Toronto messaged him yesterday to say she is coming back to help.

“So we really are overwhelmed. I mean at a time of great difficulty, it would warm your hearts to see that people are really responding, and we need people to continue to do this,” he said.

Harris was also asked about the method of cocooning the elderly and when that might be introduced.

“The truth is, I don’t know,” he said.

In the Taoiseach’s speech on St Patrick’s Day, Leo Varadkar mentioned “cocooning”. 

“At a certain point… we will advise the elderly and people who have a long-term illness to stay at home for several weeks. We are putting in place the systems to ensure that if you are one of them, you will have food, supplies and are checked on. We call this ‘cocooning’ and it will save many lives…”.

Essentially, cocooning is the actions taken by others to support the people who are being asked to reduce their social interactions. In this case, it is elderly and people with long-term illnesses who will need to be cocooned. 

‘Cocooning’ 

Harris said he current advice is if you’re an older person, and that’s classified and that is classified as somebody over the age of 70, or if you’re a person with an underlying medical condition, you should limit your social interactions.

He said:

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the dog out for a walk don’t get fresh air, said the minister but it does mean that your kids and your grandkids should be doing the shopping for you or should be going to the pharmacy for you.

However, he said if we arrive at a point in time when medical experts say the best way to protect the elderly or the vulnerable is for them to stay in their homes, then he will take that decision.

“When that decision needs to be taken, or if that decision needs to be taken, will depend on how successful we all are in trying to slow down the spread and flatten the curve in the coming days,” he said.

More capacity and more ventilators 

In the coming days, the minister said an agreement with Ireland’s private hospitals will be reached where their capacity will be taken over the public system.

“We’re going to need this. There’s no room for private versus public in a global pandemic. They have about 164 ventilation rooms,” he said.

The health service is also in “very active talks” with large companies in Ireland who produce a lot of ventilators. These are generally exported, explained the minister, who added: 

“We need those ventilators… we need them to make them available.”

He said the HSE has said they currently have about 300 but supply is expected to increase by about 80 to 90 a week.

The engagement with these companies, which was described as “fruitful”, is being done through the IDA and the HSE.

“If we don’t get down the spread of this disease, no matter how many we buy, no matter how many beds we open, it won’t be enough. What we do today, all of us will directly impact on the ability of our health service to cope,” he said.

Emergency powers 

Harris was also quizzed about the emergency legislation that is going through the Dáil, which included emergency powers to detain people suspected of having Covid-19.

It deals with issues such as shutting down mass gatherings and also the social welfare arrangements needed over the next couple of weeks for people who have lost their jobs.

Under the new laws, the minister will have the ability to cancel events if someone refuses to do so.

“We’ve never had to use this so far, as you know we’ve canceled rugby matches and concerts. We’ve effectively shut down large sectors of our hospitality sector bars and pubs and no one said you can’t do that. But it makes sense to make sure we have legal clarity in relation this,” he said. 

Concerns have been raised by some experts and TDs about whether a ‘sunset clause’ which is time limited should be added to the legislation, to ensure the laws don’t roll on beyond the current crisis.

The minister said the government is attempting to “see around corners”.

“No one wants to get to this point. But if we did get to a point, where there was a certain part of our country, where we needed to take specific measures to protect people, in terms of slowing down the spread, because that’s what we’re trying to do is to save lives, then we need to make sure we have the legal clarity.

“I want people to know this. The emergency provisions only relates to this one illness – Covid-19. The emergency provisions are envisaged to be in place until 9 May. If the government was to decide to extend them beyond that, the Oireachtas has the ability to revoke those powers within 21 days. And on top of that, we will only use these on the advice of the chief medical officer, and our public health experts,” he said.

Harris said the new powers will also ensure an area or certain region that might experience “clusters” can be restricted.

If there was a pattern of the spread of the disease in one part of this country, restrictions might be needed in that one area alone rather than the entire country.

“We might need to actually tell people in that region that in their own interest, they need to try and stay indoors” or perhaps close down non-essential businesses in that region for a period of time, he said. Such measures have been seen in other countries such as in one area in New York where the National Guard was deployed

There have been 173 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New York state at that time, including 108 in Westchester County, home to New Rochelle where the majority of infections were detected.

news-coronavirus Dan and Carol Vallario from New Rochelle take a walk along the paths at Five Islands Park park in the area last week. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

A one-mile radius “containment zone” around the epicenter of the outbreak in New Rochelle was set up.

Mass gatherings were banned, schools were shut and other services were closed. Speaking about the restrictions at the time, New York state’s governor Andrew Cuomo said businesses in the containment zone could remain open and that people were free to come and go as they wish.

The minister said today that he was conscious that “people are really nervous, really anxious, and they’re listening to this… and people are worried. I detect that right across the country. I want people to know that these measures are only ever going to be used to protect us all to keep us safe and to save lives. These are measures I hope I never have to use”.

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