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Health staff suffering from long Covid plan legal challenge against HSE


Health Professional in PPE suit

Health Professional in PPE suit

Health Professional in PPE suit

Healthcare workers who developed long Covid after working with coronavirus patients are considering taking legal action against the HSE.

It comes as their pandemic pay scheme ended last week. 

The Sunday Independent understands some staff have lodged applications for claims with the Personal Injuries Assessment Board after they were left unable to work.

About 180 HSE workers are currently away from work because of long Covid, which prevents them from carrying out normal duties.

Some of the workers have been off sick for more than two years after falling ill in the first weeks of the pandemic when little was known of the virus, vaccines were unavailable and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was in short supply.

Affected workers are concerned about potential loss of earnings and feel their career progression has been damaged after contracting the illness at work.

There is currently a stand-off between healthcare unions, the HSE and the Government over the termination of the Covid Special Leave with Pay scheme, which enabled staff suffering from long Covid to claim full pay while they are unable to work.

The scheme ended last Friday and now affected staff fear relying on traditional sick pay methods, where they can receive full sick pay for 12 weeks, then half pay for another 12 weeks, before relying on social welfare. However, it operates on a rolling basis and sick pay taken in the past four years will be subtracted from the allowance.

Director of industrial relations at the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) Tony Fitzpatrick said he is aware of a case where a nurse had surgery before the pandemic and used up her 12 weeks’ sick pay then, so would now be on half pay. Unions and health staff want to see the scheme extended.

A nurse in Dublin who has been suffering with long Covid for two years said they are worried about paying bills. Termination of the scheme means their monthly pay will be reduced from about €2,200 to €800.

“At the moment I am still experiencing brain fog, shortness of breath, migraines, tinnitus, muscle aches and palpitations. I am also more prone to infection so with all of those things I feel I am not safe to look after other people. My concentration and memory are quite poor,” they added.

“I have a mortgage to pay, bills and rising energy costs, so with the money gone my partner and I would struggle on just one wage.”

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In May the EU Advisory Committee for Safety and Health at Work said member states, workers and employers must recognise Covid-19 as an occupational disease in sectors where there is a proven risk of infection.

Mr Fitzpatrick said ending the long Covid pay scheme has significant consequences.

“At the very beginning of the pandemic these people stepped up when we didn’t know what Covid was. They put themselves at risk, they put their families at risk and they are paying a high price now. They are not fit to work and now are being cast on the rubbish heap,” he said.

“There is now no safety net. Nurses are treating patients with Covid and if they get Covid themselves and find after the isolation period they are one of the unlucky few who remain sick they will have to use up their sick leave.”

On Friday it was confirmed the HSE will engage with unions about a scheme for employees “unfit for work post Covid-19 infection”.

The Department of Health said it, the HSE and the Department Public Expenditure and Reform have been engaged on proposals for a scheme.

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