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Government continues to ignore health workers who works tirelessly during pandemic

DUBLIN: The question arises again as to whether the government will implement its announcement that there will be a mechanism for the care of health workers working tirelessly during the COVID-19 crisis.

When the country first entered the Level 5 restrictions, the government had promised to prepare a childcare contingency plan for frontline workers. Another promise was that health workers’ partners would be given leave to look after their children. But none of that has happened yet.

According to the restrictions announced on Wednesday, only services for vulnerable children and children of essential workers are allowed to open. The government is yet to provide this service to the children of health workers.

Many employees are unable to reach their workplaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of schools. Many centres are facing staff shortage. So the protection of the children of the front line staff is also in doubt. Still, the health department is unable to give an accurate answer in this regard.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization (INMO) has accused the government of repeating the past mistake. Last March, in the early stages of the pandemic, nurses were forced to take annual leave for childcare. Although the organization called for a solution to the problem, neither the government nor the HSE was willing to take it seriously.

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, INMO General Secretary, said urgent care for children of frontline staff must be found. “We must not repeat the mistakes of past waves, and provide meaningful childcare options for healthcare workers. When schools last closed, childcare was the number one issue raised with us by members,” she said.

“COVID has already decimated our hospital rosters, with over 3,000 HSE staff out due to close contacts or the virus. Health service staffing cannot be further undermined by lack of childcare,” Ní Sheaghdha warned.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the government aims to create a childcare bubble for the care of the children of frontline workers. In addition to the existing childcare arrangements, health workers are working with other households to form a bubble, which is expected to solve the problem. The same problem had arisen in the previous lockdown. Mr. Donnelly said the Government was “looking at what can be done”.

Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly said child protection has been mismanaged since the onset of the pandemic. “The issue isn’t so much as what happened last May – everyone was surprised then, but they have had all of the intervening time to prepare for this and no plan is in place. You just can’t have a last-minute solution,” he said.

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