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HSE calls close contacts back into work with more than 7,000 health staff absent

Erik G

THERE ARE MORE than 7,000 health staff out of work, many due to a Covid-19 diagnosis or because they are close contacts of a confirmed case.

The HSE has said it is asking close contacts who are asymptomatic and who have had a negative test result to return to work as the healthcare system is under immense pressure.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, HSE Chief Operations Officer Dr Anne O’Connor said more than 7,000 staff are currently absent across hospitals, nursing homes, home support services and community services. Around 4,000 of those staff are absent from acute hospitals.

She said many of these healthcare workers are out of work due to being Covid-positive or because they are a close contact of a confirmed case.

“It is a significant challenge for us,” she said.

There is a derogation process that was agreed earlier in the pandemic that allows the HSE to ask staff who are close contacts to return to work. She said this is only used “as a last resort”, but it is currently being used.

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“In sites where people are close contacts, where they are asymptomatic, there is a particular process where they are monitored by occupational health and they can return to work. And we have had to do that,” she said.

“You’ll know from the weekend that we had to put a call out to staff to come into work in Letterkenny because we were under such pressure, and I would see that happening in other sites.

The reality is that the demand now is so high, and the numbers are becoming so high that we need staff at work and given the level of absenteeism that is becoming very difficult across the board. So, not just in our hospitals but nursing homes also are extremely challenged on this front.

She said testing for these staff is being prioritised and they must have a negative test before they can return.

O’Connor acknowledged that some staff have been unable to come to work due to childcare issues and said the HSE has been trying to facilitate staff in this position being at home, where possible. However she said with the levels of Covid-19 among staff and those deemed close contacts, “anybody else is really needed at work”.

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“We have consistently put a plea out to everybody to support our health workers to get to work,” she said.

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