Covid tax-free bonus of €1,000 should be given to private hospital staff, group says

Private Hospitals’ Association says exclusion of its staff from State recognition is ‘unjustifiable omission’

A group representing 18 of the country’s private hospitals has called on the Government to extend the payment of the €1,000 tax-free Covid-19 pandemic bonus to their 10,000 staff.

The Private Hospitals’ Association said the payment should be extended in recognition of the “exceptional contribution” made by all frontline hospital workers during the pandemic.

Jim Daly, chief executive of the association, said the failure to recognise the contribution of these healthcare workers in 18 hospitals was “a deeply regrettable and unjustifiable omission”.

Despite the Government’s announcement in January that the bonus would be paid in recognition of the “dangerous and challenging conditions” that frontline healthcare workers faced, staff in private hospitals had “not to date been afforded any such recognition,” he said.

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The Government’s pandemic bonus was extended to staff at private nursing homes and home carers but staff at private hospitals were excluded from the recognition scheme.

‘Token of appreciation’

Mr Daly said he asked Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly when staff could expect to “receive the same token of appreciation that was rightly afforded to their colleagues in the public hospital system and those within private sector nursing homes and hospices affected by Covid-19”. The Minister has not responded to his letters, he said.

The Department of Health told Mr Daly in response to a letter that the decision not to include private hospital staff was made by the Government and that the department had no mandate to change the decision.

Mr Daly said that regardless of whether private hospitals had paid taxable bonuses or other incentives to staff, the Government should pay the tax-free bonus as a “matter of principle” if they wanted to acknowledge the work of all frontline healthcare workers during the pandemic.

“It is only fair and proper that these staff be recognised as well,” said Mr Daly, the former Fine Gael minister of state and TD from Co Cork.

He described the decision to exclude these staff as “an anomaly in the Government’s decision-making” and “very divisive” among frontline healthcare workers.

Mr Daly said that private hospitals were effectively taken over by the State for a three-month period at the start of the pandemic and offered their facilities in subsequent rolling agreements.

‘Hour of need’

“The private hospitals were very willing to assist the State in its hour of need and will do so again, if required,” he said.

“The Government needs to recognise that a nurse, a porter or any person who left home to work in a hospital during the Covid pandemic deserves the promised token of appreciation irrespective of whether this was in a private or public setting.”

Blackrock Health, owner of the Blackrock, Galway and Hermitage clinics, had unsuccessfully sought to have the tax-free status from the Government’s pandemic bonus scheme extended to private hospital staff after it decided to pay a similar bonus from its own funds.

The hospital operator paid an equivalent bonus to 2,400 staff working across the hospitals but staff lost as much as half the bonus in taxes.

The Government’s pandemic bonus plan has been plagued by delays and complications.

More than 120,000 Health Service Executive staff have already received the bonus but a further 86,000 non-HSE staff, including workers at nursing homes and other care facilities, are still awaiting the payment, more than 10 months after it was announced.

Last month, the HSE sought a third-party contractor to assist with payments to employees in nursing homes and hospices, long-term residential care facilities and those providing home care.

Members of the Private Hospitals’ Association include the Bon Secours and UPMC hospitals and the Mater Private in Dublin.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent