Call for enhanced sick leave for nurses suffering from long Covid

Covid death toll five times that from stroke or breast cancer, INMO conference hears

A Cavan-based nurse has described how her “lower legs looked like they were beaten with a baseball bat” due to the effects of long Covid.

Supporting a call for an enhanced sick leave scheme for nurses suffering long-term effects from infection with the virus, Sandra Morton, who tested positive in March 2020, told her colleagues attending the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) annual conference in Sligo how she was out of work for more than nine months and how even now she had not full recovered.

Formerly a nurse in Dublin, she said she had thought initially that being young and healthy, it would be like a flu but instead she became confused, delirious with chronic pain in her legs and arms.

She said long Covid “turned me into an old woman” and up to a year ago when she wanted to stand up straight “it would take me seven or eight steps” to straighten up and get walking. Ms Morton said she had been lucky at the time to receive full pay but the regime had now changed.

Nurses and midwives who contracted Covid in the workplace needed to be protected financially, she added.

Addressing the INMO conference, architect Orla Hegarty, an assistant professor at UCD said mitigating measures such as masks, monitors and ventilation were key in the fight against Covid. She said it seemed like 10 deaths a day was “an acceptable outcome” – something with which she could not agree.

Ms Hegarty said the death toll from Covid was five times the death toll from stroke or breast cancer, seven times the death rate from suicide, and 25 times the rate of deaths from road accidents. Yet there were public education and screening campaigns to counter these risks.

The director of the School of Architecture Planning and Environmental Policy at UCD said she was concerned that “preventable deaths” were not being stopped, and Covid-related fatalities seemed to going “under the radar” now.

“Currently there are 239 outbreaks in nursing homes,” she said, pointing out that with 575 nursing homes in the country, that meant outbreaks in four out of 10.

Ms Hegarty said while hand hygiene and cleaning of surfaces had got a lot of attention since the pandemic started, it was important to focus on how infection spread indoors where air was trapped.

Overcrowding

On overcrowding, a nurse attached to University Hospital Limerick (UHL) said the HSE must not be allowed to investigate the “crisis ” in that hospital, calling for cultural change.

Ann Noonan told her colleagues that management at “the most overcrowded hospital in this country” must be investigated.

“On behalf of all the overworked nurse in UHL and all the patients in the midwest I am telling the Government that we in the midwest are being failed,” she said.

“We welcome the Minister’s pledge to investigate UHL. It is not enough for hospitals to investigate themselves or for the HSE to internally investigate. We need nurses to be at the centre of this review.”

The staff nurse pointed out that UHL had a capacity of 530 beds and two weeks ago, on April 21st, there were 126 admitted patients waiting on either a trolley or a chair for a bed. “That is one-fifth of the capacity of our hospital in excess with no extra staff,” she sad.

“Yesterday we had 111, today 93. Management need to be investigated,” she said. Ms Noonan said overcrowding was causing negative outcomes for both patients and staff, leading to “avoidable mortality” among patients.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is due to address the conference on Friday morning. Delegates will also debate an emergency motion on the cost of living.