'It makes me so angry', says Cork nurse with long Covid as sick pay is cut off

The Covid-19 Special Leave with Pay Scheme for healthcare workers is due to end today
'It makes me so angry', says Cork nurse with long Covid as sick pay is cut off

From tomorrow, July 1, healthcare workers and other public sector employees who are out of work due to Covid or long Covid will have to revert to ordinary sick leave.

CORK healthcare workers suffering with long Covid feel they have been “thrown under the bus” by the Government, as special Covid sick pay is to be cut off by tomorrow.

The Covid-19 Special Leave with Pay Scheme for healthcare workers is due to end today. From tomorrow, July 1, healthcare workers and other public sector employees who are out of work due to Covid or long Covid will have to revert to ordinary sick leave.

This includes three months’ full pay, three months’ half pay, and then an employee is dropped from payroll.

One Cork nurse, who has been suffering with long Covid since January last year, said a new scheme is needed for those with long Covid.

“It makes me so angry. As healthcare workers, we had no choice but to go to work. We did our job to the very best of our ability, and now the Government are just throwing us under the bus,” she said.

“We shouldn’t have to use regular sick leave and risk going off payroll, because of an illness we got at work. They need to come up with some scheme to look after us.”

She was 33 when she first tested positive in early January 2021, before vaccines were available.

Young and healthy, she never expected to suffer from long Covid. Now out of work for over a year, chronic fatigue and brain fog make simple tasks such as going to the shop or having a shower an ordeal.

'WE NEED TO BE LOOKED AFTER'

“I’m no closer to going back to work now than I was last year — it’s awful,” she said. “I love my job, I go above and beyond for my patients, and now I wonder will I ever go back nursing again. I just think they need to put something in place, because we all stepped up when the pandemic was bad, and now we just need to be looked after.”

She said that the looming July 1 date feels like a “very, very big cliff”, despite the fact that Health Minister Stephen Donnelly promised last month, at the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation conference, that no healthcare worker would face a financial cliff edge on July 1.

The National Joint Council of Ictu Healthcare Unions has called on the Minister for Health to extend the Covid Special Leave with Pay scheme.

Chairman of the National Joint Council of HSE Staff Trade Unions, Tony Fitzpatrick, said the cutting off of special pay is a “shocking and wholly disappointing move from Government”, and said it was “unacceptable”.

“Healthcare workers who are now suffering varied and, in some instances, challenging medium and long-term effects of long Covid should not be penalised for not being able to return to work,” he said.

“These are workers who went to work every day, in some instances without proper PPE or without a vaccine available to them.

“They will now be penalised by their employer because of an illness they picked up in the workplace. This is not right or acceptable.”

He added that it was “infuriating and extremely disappointing” for trade unions that the Health Minister had not ensured engagement between the Department of Health, the HSE, and unions on the matter — as the HSE refused to attend talks which were to be facilitated by the Workplace Relations Commission on June 27.

He called on the HSE and Department of Health to attend the WRC to reach a resolution on the matter, adding that “it is necessary that an appropriate scheme is put into place immediately to protect healthcare workers”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said yesterday: “The Department of Health is working with [the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform] and the HSE to address this important matter as a priority.”

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