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Unions call for healthcare workers to not be exempt from five-day household Covid rule

Dr Colm Henry said the HSE is finalising its policy around this at the moment.

Image: Shutterstock/David Herraez Calzada

UNIONS HAVE SAID healthcare workers must not be exempt from the new requirement for people to restrict their movements for five days if a member of their household has Covid-19.

It follows comments from HSE CEO Paul Reid this afternoon that the health service is “working through” a policy around asymptomatic close contacts remaining in work.

The ‘derogation’ measure that healthcare workers who are close contacts but have no symptoms can, in some cases, return to work if they test negative for Covid-19 has been in place at different times during the pandemic, particularly when cases are surging.

The government announced on Tuesday that people who live in the same household as a person with confirmed Covid-19 must restrict their movements for five days and do three antigen tests during this time. 

Restricting movements includes staying home from work in most cases and Reid said the HSE is “very concerned” about the potential impacts this would have on staffing levels. 

“We’re working through right now in terms of how derogation would apply to healthcare workers,” Reid said at a press briefing today.

He said workers “would be able to go to work under certain monitored conditions at work” as has happened before. 

The National Joint Council group of healthcare unions has written to the HSE to oppose any plans to make healthcare workers exempt from the rule. 

National Joint Council Chairperson Tony Fitzpatrick said this measure would “not help to prevent the spread of the disease”.

Fitzpatrick said the unions – the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, Siptu and Fórsa – are “strongly opposed” to Reid’s comments about this earlier today.

“We cannot repeat the mistakes of previous derogations that allowed healthcare workers to be exempt from public health advice,” Fitzpatrick said.

“Healthcare workers should not be treated differently in terms of public health advice. The HSE and Government need to take the concerns of patient-facing staff seriously.

We cannot have a situation where the highest cohort of workers who are dealing with unvaccinated patients and working in environments with poor ventilation like many of our healthcare settings, are putting their colleagues and loved ones at further risk.

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“We are already seeing over 4,500 healthcare workers out of work because of this virus, we cannot allow a carte blanche decision that is not rooted in public health advice to be made.”

Reid said said the new policy for households “would have a significant impact on our resourcing”. 

Healthcare workers would “continue to restrict the movements as best they can” while going to work, Reid added.

HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry said the health service is finalising its derogation document while “recognising, of course, that the risk is much lower because the healthcare workers are vaccinated”. 

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