Unions welcome U-turn on long Covid payments for healthcare workers

There will be a three-month extension to the payment scheme for HSE employees impacted by long Covid

Unions representing healthcare staff working in the HSE have welcomed the announcement of a three-month extension to the organisation’s payment scheme for employees impacted by long Covid.

Just under 120 staff were receiving payments under the Special Leave with Pay Scheme when it concluded at the end of last month, according to the Department of Health, although unions say a larger number are impacted by the condition.

Talks had been scheduled to take place at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) on Wednesday to discuss union calls for a further extension to the scheme or for the adoption of alternative arrangements that would represent an improvement on the standard sick leave payments available to HSE staff.

The unions claim the HSE has a particular duty of care to the staff affected as Covid was an occupational disease but that characterisation has not been agreed by the department. The unions had sought backing for their claim from the Labour Court, but had been unsuccessful.

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Though the scheme had previously been extended, moves last month to push the date for ending it back again had initially been resisted by the Department for Public Expenditure and Reform. After further engagement between the two departments in recent days, however, a three-month extension has been agreed to allow further consideration of the issues involved, and the two sides will meet as planned at the WRC.

“Long Covid continues to be a serious health problem for hundreds of healthcare staff. It is a condition without precedent, and creates a challenge both for those workers affected and the health services more generally,” said Fórsa’s national secretary for health and welfare Ashley Connolly.

“It is essential that we can develop an agreed and permanent solution for those affected. The temporary extension announced today provides a bit of much-needed breathing space for conciliation, and will provide some peace of mind for affected workers following months of uncertainty and worry.”

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation also welcomed a move it said would benefit a group of mainly female staff “still suffering from a myriad of symptoms associated with long Covid”.

“We hope this is an indication of the future approach that will be taken by the Department of Health and the HSE at the Workplace Relations Commission.”

A spokesperson for the HSE said that there had been extensive engagement between the parties in recent months.

“The matter has been referred back to the Workplace Relations Commission by the staff representative bodies, where the parties will engage further,” they added.

“A temporary reinstatement of the Special Scheme sought by the Department of Health has today been approved by the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform. This temporary reinstatement will permit the time needed for further conciliation to take place on the matter. Health service employees who were impacted by the conclusion of the Special Scheme will be notified of this without delay.”

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