Fórsa this evening (Tuesday) said health workers were dismayed at the persistent Government failure to deliver on its promise to provide childcare support for essential workers fighting the coronavirus. The union, which represents over 30,000 hospital and community health staff, said the lack of progress – six weeks after the closure of schools and crèches – was exacerbating staffing problems in the health and care sectors, and inhibiting healthcare workers’ efforts to restrict the spread of the virus and treat those who contract it.
For the fifth week running, a meeting of senior HSE officials this evening (Tuesday) failed to agree measures to deal with the issue.
The head of Fórsa’s Health and Welfare Division, Éamonn Donnelly, said there was growing evidence that the failure to act was forcing essential health staff to stay home to look after their children at a time when the virus was depleting the number of health staff available for work.
There is growing evidence that the failure to act is forcing essential health staff to stay home to look after their children at a time when the virus is depleting the number of health staff available for work.
The union said the lack of childcare support was a particular problem for single parents and carers, and for families where both adults are essential workers in the health sector or elsewhere.
Yesterday (Monday) Fórsa raised the issue directly with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, whose department is meant to be working with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to provide a solution.
Mr Donnelly said staff were dismayed that there had been zero progress so long after schools and crèches were closed. “Staffing pressures in the health service have worsened in the meantime, as significant numbers of health workers have contracted the virus or have had to self-isolate.
“Increasing numbers of health workers have been forced to take annual leave to cover gaps in their temporary childcare arrangements, and a growing number are telling us that they simply have to prioritise their children in the absence of promised supports. This has the effect of penalising the very people who providing essential services, often at considerable personal risk to themselves, and further depleting staff complements in hospitals and elsewhere.”
Increasing numbers of health workers have been forced to take annual leave to cover gaps in their temporary childcare arrangements, and a growing number are telling us that they simply have to prioritise their children in the absence of promised supports.
Last week it emerged that over 2,500 health workers had contracted the virus. 639 of them – over 25% of the total – are health and social care professional grades represented by Fórsa.
Fórsa says it has raised the issue with the HSE and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on a weekly basis since mid-March.
“We understand that there are public health challenges associated with childcare at this time. But the Government and its agencies have moved with impressive speed to implement extremely radical changes in virtually every other aspect of our lives. When will it move to support the health staff who are putting their own health at risk to serve their communities and their country?” said Mr Donnelly.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the closure of all schools and crèches on Thursday 12th March. At that time, health unions were assured that the Government would quickly put childcare supports in place for essential staff working to prevent the spread of coronavirus and treat those with the condition.