Coronavirus: 16,000 special needs assistants put on support standby

SNAs will fill vacancies created by nurses and medical staff moving into frontline jobs

All 16,000 special needs assistants employed by schools are to be placed on standby to fill vacancies created by moving nurses and medical staff out of community healthcare setting and into frontline jobs.

The initiative is part of a wider temporary assignment programme for public sector employees.

All schools are currently closed under public health restrictions.

The contingency plan for reassignments is being put in place in the event of an extension to public health measures.


While all SNAs will be eligible for temporary assignment, it is likely that just a proportion will end up doing so, according to officials.,

Meanwhile, the country’s largest public service trade union has said voluntary organisations which receive grant aid from the State to provide health and social services should be brought into the HSE for the duration of the crisis.

Fórsa wants the Government to treat the organisations concerned - known technically as Section 39 agencies - in the same manner as it did with private hospitals earlier this week and bring them effectively under State control.

The union said Section 39 organisations were independent of the HSE but depended on public money to provide disability, homelessness, addiction and other services.

Health insurers are meeting the Department of Health on Wednesday on the implications arising from the agreement reached between the Government and private hospitals earlier this week.

Under the initiative, the Government brought 19 private hospitals into the public health system for the duration of the current coronavirus crisis.

The deal which will run for three months and potentially up to five months, will have implications for more than two million people who have private health insurance, many of whom have plans which provide cover for private hospitals.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted this week that the new initiative did not represent the nationalisation of private hospitals but rather a partnership between public and private hospitals.

On foot of the heads of agreement reached with the private hospital sector, the HSE will secure 100 per cent of available capacity including beds , theatres and diagnostic and other facilities for the duration of the deal.

Health insurer Laya said in recent days it would provide financial support to its 600,000 members in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

The managing director of Laya healthcare Dónal Clancy said it could not commit to the exact details of such financial support at the moment as some critical issues regarding claims costs needed to be worked out carefully.

The State-owned health insurer VHI - the largest in the Irish market-- has advised subscribers that it will give back to them savings on claims generated as a result of the new measures to deal with the Covid-19 crisis.

Irish Life Health indicated to its customers that they can expect a discount in the months ahead as a result of the Government’s decision to bring all private hospitals under public control during the coronavirus crisis.

It has not yet indicated by how much premiums will be impacted as a result of the crisis and the reduction in the level of private health care available in the State.

‘National effort’

Announcing details of the SNA move on Wednesday, Minister for Education Joe McHugh said a dedicated process has been set up by the Public Appointments Service on to put such staff on standby to free up frontline workers for essential services.

“SNAs do fantastic work day in day out for children with a variety of needs in our schools,” he said.

“Their support hugely enriches the lives of children. Crucially, they have much-needed skills and experience which can be of huge benefit to other services and I believe will be of great support to the national effort.

“I know this is a new departure for many people but opening up a temporary assignment programme is about giving some workers the opportunity to be on standby to help others in great need.”

Mr McHugh said management across the education and training sector are being asked consider how best to utilise staff to facilitate the delivery of educational services.

Any staff who are not required for educational or research services will be available for assignment on a temporary basis to support delivery of other essential public services.

He said All SNAs will be asked to access a web link between by April 7th where they will answer a questionnaire and details will be uploaded for the temporary assignment process.

Temporary assignment will be managed on a structured, centralised basis through the Department of Education and the Public Appointments Service.

In the case of SNAs, the Public Appointments Service and HSE will check skills and match them with requirements before making contact with details of the reassignment role and location of work.

Community Services for children with a disability have been identified as the initial priority area for temporary assignment of SNAs, including public, private and voluntary healthcare settings.

SNAs may also be asked to provide remote supports to families of children who they are familiar with, including scheduled calls or video links with advice on routines, home schooling, behaviour management and social stories on Covid-19.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent