Some 7,000 health staff need childcare support, says HSE chief

INMO advises nurses who are unable to work due to lack of childcare to seek full pay

About 7,000 health service staff have indicated they need some form of childcare support. Photograph: Frank Miller

About 7,000 health service staff have indicated they need some form of childcare support. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

About 7,000 health service staff have indicated they need some form of childcare support to continue working during the current coronavirus crisis, the head of the HSE has indicated.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said on Sunday that a long-planned childcare scheme for essential workers was still under discussion among Government officials and public health specialists.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said subsequently that it was now advising members who could not attend work due to a lack of childcare “to notify their employer and seek full pay and possible temporary reassignment”.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: “It is clearly discriminatory for a worker to lose out on income simply because the State refuses to provide childcare.”

The trade union Siptu said as well as staff taking annual leave and calling in sick to mind children, it has now heard that grandparents were becoming involved in looking after the children of some healthcare staff despite recommendations on “cocooning” as no alternatives were available.

Difficulties

Mr Reid maintained about 7,000 staff in the health service had said, in a survey the HSE had carried out in the last week or so, that they either had childcare problems at present or perceived such difficulties would arise in the future.

He suggested that if the Covid -19 crisis continued over a longer period, that arrangements for childcare which staff had put in place could become unsustainable.

He said while the number was relatively small out of a total health workforce of nearly 140,000, the HSE wanted to do what it could to see the issues addressed.

Mr Reid said the childcare issue was still being discussed through the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET)and senior officials in relevant Government departments.

In parliamentary correspondence to TDs, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said intensive work has been ongoing in order to deliver a “safe and pragmatic solution that meets the needs of essential workers, is child centred, and protects any childcare practitioners who might volunteer”.

“No details have been finalised or agreements reached until such time as an NPHET recommendation and Government decision is made. Should such a decision be made, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) also awaits guidance from NPHET on a preferred model to minimise any public health concerns.

“Should Government and NPHET decide that reactivation of childcare services is required, DCYA will respond to the evidence of need and demand supplied by those sectors defined as essential for this purpose, and DCYA will be guided by NPHET on the model of care to minimise any public health concerns.”

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said childcare was one of its members’ biggest concerns at present.

“More than nine in 10 nurses and midwives are women, many with young families. When schools and creches are closed, many simply can’t attend work. This problem is going to get worse, not better. Government inaction is needlessly depleting the front lines of much-needed staff.

“The cheapest and most effective solution to this would be for Government to provide or fund childcare options for front-line health workers. There simply isn’t any other option if they want to properly staff our health service. We are blue in the face, calling for this for over a month now. Nurses and midwives should be at work, but the State simply is making it impossible for many to do so.”

Guidance

The INMO believes that its advice is in line with guidance that issued from the Department of Public Expenditure which said that where a staff member could not work outside the home and could not perform their duties remotely , that he or she were still to be considered as actively on duty and available for work.

Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said he believed the figure of 7,000 health staff concerned about childcare was “a conservative estimate”. He said Siptu welcomed the recognition of the issue by HSE management. However, he said it was now five weeks into the current crisis and the union had yet to receive any proposal on how childcare for essential workers was to be addressed by the Government.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said earlier this month that the Government was ready to push the button on providing childcare to essential healthcare workers.

However, he said it needed public health clearance in order for the initiative to go ahead.