Surge in number of health staff off work for Covid-19 issues

HSE report shows almost 1,700 workers were absent when second lockdown introduced

The number of healthcare workers absent due to Covid-19 stood at 1,697 on October 21st, the same day Level 5 restrictions were introduced. Photograph: Getty Images

The number of healthcare workers absent due to Covid-19 stood at 1,697 on October 21st, the same day Level 5 restrictions were introduced. Photograph: Getty Images

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The number of health staff off work for Covid-related issues surged to almost five times its summer level in recent weeks, internal Health Service Executive (HSE) documents show.

The number of healthcare workers absent due to Covid-19 stood at 1,697 on October 21st, the same day Level 5 restrictions were introduced, up from a mid-summer low point of 352 on July 8th.

While the figures of healthcare workers off sick with the disease or self-isolating due to being declared a close contact did not approach the levels seen in the spring, they grew rapidly in the weeks prior to Level 5 measures being implemented.

On August 26th, as the second wave was beginning to gain momentum, 496 workers were off work. Two weeks later that had almost doubled to 957.

During September and early October the rate remained relatively stable, with 1,155 and 1,115 workers absent on September 23rd and October 7th.

However, a second increase of 582 workers absent was then recorded on October 21st, bringing the total Covid-19-related absenteeism across the HSE to 1,697.

The data, which is contained in an internal HSE Covid-19 situational report, may also be an underestimate, the report notes. This is due to absences being entered in arrears on the HSE’s human resources system, the report notes, meaning “it is likely that this dataset is underestimated”.

Furthermore, the report notes that data had not been received for the reporting period from the Dublin Dental Hospital or Beaumont Hospital.

The HSE said it is expanding its workforce and has put in place specific initiatives relating to occupational health and education in order to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.

A spokeswoman said supports include priority testing, PPE and infection control training, free flu vaccinations, an internal Covid helpline, as well as flexible work practices.

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, said there was a “vicious cycle” at work in the health system, where “understaffing leads to more infections, which in turn adds more staffing pressure”.