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Healthcare workers who are asymptomatic close contacts asked to return to frontline as 7,000 HSE staff out of work

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Anne O Connor Chief Operations Officer HSE at a HSE briefing. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

Anne O Connor Chief Operations Officer HSE at a HSE briefing. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

Anne O Connor Chief Operations Officer HSE at a HSE briefing. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

Healthcare workers on leave due to being a close contact of a Covid-19 case are being asked to return to work if they are asymptomatic due to the strain on the health service.

There are currently over 7,000 HSE staff out of work, Chief Operations Officer Ann O’Connor confirmed this morning.

There are currently 1,750 Covid-19 patients in hospital, with 172 of these in ICU, according to latest figures. Both figures are the highest tallies ever recorded in the pandemic.

The INMO has today called for the government to declare a National Emergency due to the hospital crisis, as they say the health service is not coping with the surge in the disease.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, the COO said there are 14 Irish hospitals with more than 50 Covid-19 cases and six with more than 100. She said Cork University Hospital, University Hospital Limerick and Galway University Hospital are the worst hit.

Ms O’Connor said in “ordinary circumstances” the close contacts of cases would be out for 14 days, but said “that is not available to us in that instance”.

“Clearly that is something we would use as a last resort… it has been used. Where people are close contacts of cases and asymptomatic, there is a process where they are monitored by occupational health and they can return to work. We have had to do that.

“At the weekend, we had to put a call out to staff in Letterkenny to come in as we were under so much pressure and I would see that happening in other sites.

“The reality is now that the demand is so high, and the numbers are becoming so high, that we need people at work and given the level of absenteeism, that is becoming very difficult. This is across the board in our nursing homes as well as our hospitals,” Ms O’Connor confirmed.

The 7,000 staff out of work are across nursing homes, home support services and across community services, as well as acute hospitals.

“When you add all those together it is in excess of 7,000 people,” Ms O’Connor said, adding: “it is a significant challenge for us, people are out because of being Covid positive or due to being close contacts, so anybody else is needed at work and anything that anybody can do to help that is very important”.

The HSE COO indicated the health service is prioritising testing for these returning close contacts and they must have a negative test to return to work.

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