Nurses are to seek compensation for work carried out during the current Covid-19 pandemic.
A submission presented by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) to an Oireachtas committee ahead of a hearing on Tuesday is vague on whether it is seeking additional payments or additional leave.
However, the union pointed out that healthcare workers in Northern Ireland and Scotland are set to receive a once-off €500 bonus and said staff in France are to receive a special €1,500 payment.
The INMO last November lodged a claim for what it described as compensatory leave – believed to be 10 days – “due to fatigue and overwork throughout 2020”. The union said the HSE had not yet responded to this claim.
The proposed new public service pay deal sets out a 1 per cent pay rise in both 2021 and 2022, as well as the possibility of additional money from a sectoral bargaining process. There is no provision for pandemic-related compensation payments in the proposed agreement.
The INMO said in its submission that it had experienced difficulties in protecting frontline healthcare workers since the start of the pandemic. It maintained that worker safety had been afforded insufficient priority.
It said there had been slow decision-making processes in the HSE and wider Government; delays in rolling out universal facemasks and higher-standard masks; unclear communications on occupational health policy changes; no clear guidance or regional prioritisation ahead of the rollout of vaccines; last-minute decision-making on student nurses and midwives as well as long-standing problems with workforce planning and health service underinvestment.
It said an independent statutory examination was needed given that at least 24,730 healthcare workers had contracted the Covid-19 virus.
The INMO submission is also critical of the rollout of vaccinations for healthcare workers, claiming it has been done “in a haphazard manner”.
It says there is clear data available to show where the virus is spreading both geographically and in terms of the healthcare workforce, but “it appears this data was not used for planning the vaccination strategy and as a result, distribution did not strictly follow the virus’s trajectory.”
The submission says: “Instead, the rollout commenced in a haphazard manner, not focused on the locations or workplaces with the highest infections or geographically bordering areas with high community infection.”
The INMO also says the surge in the virus has led to a “sharp increase” in hospital-acquired infection.“The lack of routine testing in acute hospitals has been a major failure on the part of the HSE and must be addressed.”
Separately, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) will tell the committee that more than half of the absences among medical and dental staff were due to Covid-19 – the largest proportion for any staff category.
“This has not only meant the curtailment of services to patients, but it has necessitated doctors working additional hours on top of their full week and already onerous on-call rosters at night and weekends.”
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said staffing shortages were impacting significantly on the mental health of the country’s medical workforce.
“Long working hours, excessive workload, redeployment, requirements to cover for absent colleagues, inability to get proper rest and take proper breaks, and difficulties in accessing childcare are all contributing to high rates of stress and burnout among doctors. This is particularly evident among NCHDs [non-consultant hospital doctors] who are also seeing their training impacted by Covid-19 and among public health specialists, where morale is at an all-time low.”