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'Have we learned nothing from nursing homes?' - SNA staff supplying care to students 'without proper PPE'


Stock photo: Getty Images

Stock photo: Getty Images

Stock photo: Getty Images

A significant number of special needs assistants are supplying care to students without wearing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), the Covid-19 committee has heard.

Trade union Fórsa said it has received reports of schools requiring staff to reuse face masks and refusing to purchase the necessary PPE.

Andy Pike, head of Fórsa, said he is concerned about staff with underlying health conditions working side-by-side with students.

Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway-Walsh slammed these reports as “shocking”.

“Have we learned nothing from our nursing homes,” she said.

“This is something which needs to be investigated urgently.”

Mr Pike also highlighted how some schools have no space for isolation rooms, giving an example of one school using a perspex partition inside a secretary’s office.

He said that the use of isolation rooms for students exhibiting symptoms would be "problematic" going forward.

Mr Pike asked for clarity on the issue of face masks, citing confusion over whether staff should simply be wearing face coverings or a medical grade face mask.

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Fórsa represents 20,000 non-teaching staff including SNA, caretakers and secretaries. Mr Pike said these workers have been told they must work in classrooms without any social distancing, despite clear evidence that they are at high risk if they contract Covid-19.

“Staff are concerned that the occupational health advice doesn’t take account of individual health status and seems to allow people at high risk to work in situations without social distancing even if they have multiple underlying health conditions. We are seeking an alternative approach that is responsive to advice from GPs, rather than a blanket uniform approach which is insensitive to real health risks and fears,” he said.

“SNAs can’t practise social distancing and do their job because they work so closely with the students they give personal care to. As things stand, this means they will be exposed to the highest level of risk. Classroom staff with underlying health conditions need more protection than those working in other settings,” said Mr Pike.

The committee is meeting today to hear input from teachers and parents about how the return of schools is operating on the ground.

Education Minister Norma Foley is due to appear before the committee later today.

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