The health service is facing a potential staffing crisis after it was proposed yesterday that healthcare workers who have exhausted all efforts to secure childcare can stay at home.
This could potentially see hundreds of workers, many of them nurses, opt to stay at home to care for their children.
However, the new measure risks leaving hospitals and nursing homes without key staff.
It is understood the staff would receive their regular pay and allowances.
The lack of childcare has been an ongoing source of frustration for frontline healthcare workers since schools and crèches were shut in the middle of last month.
Union sources said that in a teleconference yesterday evening, HSE representatives proposed that healthcare workers could take paid leave if they have exhausted all efforts to secure childcare in order to stay at home and care for their children.
This would be in line with what other public sector workers are offered.
However, the proposal has not yet been confirmed.
It is understood that healthcare staff could work from home if possible and help out with tasks such as administrative work or contact tracing.
Last night, the HSE was unable to clarify if staff would be working from home while on paid leave.
"The HSE's position remains that it intends to work collaboratively with staff, to be as flexible as possible to ensure that issues relating to supporting childcare arrangements are balanced with our responsibilities to provide critical health services during this pandemic," it said in a statement.
"Our overriding goal is to ensure flexibility and creativity in working with staff and managers in this regard."
The lack of childcare has been a major issue for unions since the lockdown began and it is understood that around 1,000 healthcare staff are affected.
Last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said paid leave will be provided for partners of healthcare workers who work in the public sector to allow them to mind their children at home.
However, the move sparked criticism from unions who said it would do nothing for many staff - such as those where both partners were healthcare workers, or where the other partner worked in the private sector or for single parents.
Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said his members were initially hugely disappointed with the Taoiseach's announcement, but this "turned to huge anger among a large number of extremely hard-pressed health and other essential workers".
The INMO called the plan "old-fashioned" and was only a solution for those with partners in the public sector.
Around 200 members of the INMO are affected by the lack of childcare during the pandemic. The union has called for direct in-home provision of childcare, reimbursement of childcare costs already incurred by members during the lockdown, and a reimbursement of annual leave already taken to look after children.
However, Mr Varadkar said last week that the National Public Health Emergency Team had reservations about allowing childminders into healthcare workers' homes and would not approve such a move.
He said: "But that's now going to be considered as something that perhaps could kick in on May 5 as part of a general easing of restrictions. But they're not happy for us to do it right now."