Existing HSE staff can be re-deployed on a voluntary basis to work in private nursing homes affected by the coronavirus pandemic under an agreement reached between the health authority and trade unions.
Nursing homes have been particuarly hard hit by the current Covid-19 pandemic. A total of 167 people in nursing homes have died after contracting the virus.
The new agreement says moving existing HSE staff to private nursing homes should be “an absolute last resort having exhausted all other options and ensured that the private provider has exhausted every available avenue to source staff”.
It says this “must be demonstrative in writing and strictly policed by the public service” and that deployment of existing health service personnel should not “create unacceptable risk or service impairment in the public sector service and staff cannot be left short staffed in public facilities”.
The agreement between the HSE and trade unions on the initiative says that staff who volunteered to work in private nursing homes “ should be given the option to be assigned to a facility and reserve the right to refuse same”
“. A refusal to a specific redeployment by a volunteer to the register will not constitute a ground for the use of the disciplinary procedure, it says.
Siptu said on Wednesday that under the new deal a register of volunteer staff will be established.
It said volunteers to work in private nursing homes would come from across the nursing, health care assistant, cleaning, chef and catering assistant disciplines.
Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said: "Our members want to help deal with the increasing clusters of the virus among the most vulnerable service users in the nursing home sector in their catchment area. However, until now, there was no policy or protocol for members asked to provide assistance to private nursing homes which are not under the governance of the HSE."
He said that under the new agreement with the HSE the re-deployment of Siptu members would be strictly on a voluntary basis. He said a register of volunteers would be set up in each community health area in the HSE.
“Volunteers will come from across the nursing, health care assistant, cleaning, chef and catering assistant disciplines. Our members will remain completely under the management of the HSE and will be assigned for agreed periods of time. They will also be provided with an adequate supply of personal protecgtive quipment (PPE) for their tasks.”
Tony Fitzpatrick, director of industrial relations with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme that agreement had been reached that in an emergency situation public sector staff would work in private nursing homes to ensure patients are cared for.
There have been situations in private nursing homes where there are no staff to work particular shifts due to illness or availability, he said.
All unions working together had reached an “historical” agreement for redeployment across HSE and Section 38 hospitals and facilities as well as for a massive redeployment in community assessment hubs, he said.
Mr Fitzpatrick said it showed that it “falls back on the public sector to bail out other sectors” and that massive public funding of public healthcare would be needed “down the road.”