Fully-vaccinated HSE staff off work due to health reasons told to stay at home

HSE in dilemma over prospect of legal action if workers fall ill after returning to work

More than 650 HSE staff, most of them frontline workers, are cocooning at home because they are considered vulnerable to coronavirus. Photograph: iStock

More than 650 HSE staff, most of them frontline workers, are cocooning at home because they are considered vulnerable to coronavirus. Photograph: iStock

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Hundreds of healthcare workers who are off work for health reasons during the pandemic have been told to stay at home despite being fully vaccinated.

More than 650 Health Service Executive staff, most of them frontline workers, are cocooning at home because they are considered vulnerable to coronavirus.

Some are past normal retirement age while others have underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to the disease.

With the vaccination of frontline healthcare workers virtually complete, the HSE has been wrestling with what to do with this group of staff, who are separate from others with health issues who can continue to work from home or can be redeployed to other roles.

Some are keen to be allowed to return to work while others still have health concerns despite being fully vaccinated and do not wish to have direct patient contact.

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
579 122

The group, all of whom are on full pay, includes doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants and home carers. It also includes pregnant staff, as well as some workers who need to attend work in order to complete the obligations of medical training schemes.

No precedents

Because the vaccination of healthcare workers is more advanced in Ireland than in almost any other country, there are no precedents for best practice internationally.

Despite the wishes of some staff to be able to return to frontline work, the HSE has decided for now not to make any changes to existing rules. One factor is a fear of litigation should a healthcare worker fall ill upon returning to work. The three authorised vaccines are highly effective, but none have 100 per cent efficacy.

Another factor was the Government guidance on the need for older people generally to cocoon. People over 70 are advised to stay at home as much as possible and to avoid meeting other people.

Applications from a number of older doctors and nurses to help out with the vaccine rollout were turned down because of the guidelines in place, or because they were not willing to go back on the professional register and update training.

In some cases, The Irish Times understands, older staff went ahead and volunteered, despite the medical advice.

The number of Covid-19 infections among healthcare workers has fallen by at least 80 per cent since vaccination of this group started in late December. Healthcare workers now account for under 5 per cent of all cases.

Nonetheless, 373 cases were recorded in healthcare workers in the past fortnight, with 127 of these infections noted as having occurred in a healthcare setting.

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