Match unemployed with nursing home jobs, urges leading doctor

Prof Sam McConkey says jobless levels are a ‘tragedy’ when key roles need to be filled

A sign outside  a nursing home in Dublin urging people not to visit due to Covid-19. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A sign outside a nursing home in Dublin urging people not to visit due to Covid-19. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The Government should consider “matching” people made unemployed in the coronavirus pandemic with nursing homes battling outbreaks of infection with severe staff shortages, a leading infectious diseases specialist has said.

Prof Sam McConkey of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) said there has been “massive national dysfunctional matching” in the pandemic, with more than 700,000 out of work on State unemployment and wage subsidies, while nursing homes are depleted of key staff.

“It is a challenge and a tragedy that with all these people unemployed and all these jobs that need to be done, our current employment structures are not matching those,” he said.

“There is a real need for a piece of work to be done quite quickly to try and get people who want jobs into the jobs that are clearly there.”

The country’s nursing homes have reported hundreds of staff out on sick leave with Covid-19 or self-isolating with suspected symptoms, leaving the elderly care homes struggling to cope and more than 200 facilities with clusters of infection under deep strain trying to stem outbreaks.

Nursing homes have reported staff shortages not just among nursing and healthcare staff but among cleaning and catering staff required to keep the homes open during the pandemic.

The HSE has redeployed just 217 nurses and healthcare staff to nursing homes.

‘Command and control’

Prof McConkey defended the HSE, saying that it did not operate “a command and control” structure where it could simply redirect staff to work in nursing homes.

The doctor said that a solution may lie in the Government and Minister for Health Simon Harris talking to nursing homes to “try to work out solutions together and find a way of mobilising some of the 700,000 people who are on benefits to help the nursing home owners”.

Some privately owned nursing homes have criticised the HSE’s “Be on call for Ireland” recruitment drive, saying that they have not received any additional staff under the initiative.

Ann Fitzpatrick, owner of and a nurse at St Theresa’s Nursing Home in Thurles, Co Tipperary, said she would have to close her Covid-free 30-resident home if she had to go off duty.

“The ‘Be on call for Ireland’ is about the HSE; it is not about nursing homes,” she said.

She criticised the Government’s plan to mass-test nursing home residents and staff for Covid-19 without a follow-up plan to help homes replace staff who have to self-isolate if they test positive.

“It is absolute madness. I understand it has to be done but a lot of staff could be positive and they all have to isolate for two weeks, but who is going to mind the residents?” she said.

The HSE said over the weekend that almost 2,000 people recruited through the “Be on call for Ireland” drive, launched by the Government on St Patrick’s Day to boost the medical frontline for the coronavirus pandemic, are either working or ready and available to work.

Separate stream

It said on Saturday that just 57 of these recruits have begun working, 553 are “job ready” and 500 are “available” when needed.

Some 880 student nurses who applied were progressed through a separate stream and are working as health care assistants in community and acute hospitals.

This combined total of 1,990 to come through the “Be on call for Ireland” drive amounts to less than 3 per cent of the 73,000 people who applied to help the health service through this crisis.

The HSE said “the vast majority” of applicants were not healthcare professionals.

The health service has hired the recruitment company CPL, which provides subcontractors to Facebook and other large employers, to support the recruitment drive “due to the strain on existing HSE resources to meet the Covid-19 challenge”, a HSE spokeswoman said.

The public health service declined to disclose what it was paying the private company, saying that the rate of pay was “commercially sensitive”.

Three-month contracts of employment through the recruitment drive will be with CPL, and not the HSE, but the HSE stressed that those recruited would be paid the same as HSE employees and their contracts could be extended, depending on the needs of the healthcare service.

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