A GREEN Party councillor has criticised the Department of Social Protection for failing to recognise Covid-19 as an occupational disease and providing financial security for healthcare workers with long Covid.
Councillor Liam Quaide raised the issue at a full council meeting in the latter months of 2022 and he received a reply at the first full council meeting of the year from the Department of Social Protection.
“Covid-19 and long Covid are not considered an occupational disease as they do not satisfy the requirement outlined in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 Section 87 (2),” the department letter said.
“The department is aware of the work of the EU Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work (ACSH) regarding the recognition of Covid-19 as an occupational disease as part of the European Union’s Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027. The Department is monitoring the European Commission’s work on this issue,” the letter stated.
Mr Quaide said the response from the department is an ‘absurd’ suggestion.
“It appears that the Department of Social Protection does not believe that healthcare workers were more at risk of Covid infection than the average person in their workplace. This is an absurd suggestion.
"We remember the extended applause for our so-called frontline heroes in Dáil Éireann. This gesture rings hollow for many healthcare workers now as they face ongoing physical distress, disability, and financial insecurity,” he said.
Mr Quaide, who works as a clinical psychologist in CUH with long Covid patients, said there is a disproportionate number of healthcare workers among people with severe long Covid. “They are struggling with a range of symptoms, which include debilitating fatigue, physical pains, respiratory and cognitive issues. While much of the country’s workforce stayed at home during the critical stages of the pandemic, healthcare staff risked everything, and some have paid an enormous price.
“An occupational injury scheme for healthcare workers afflicted with long Covid is a need that has been repeatedly identified by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. Such a scheme has been recommended by the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027,” Mr Quaide said.
“They should be compensated for the pervasive impact of these symptoms on their health, quality-of-life and capacity to work.
"They also should be provided with pay security by the state into the future,” he added.
It was agreed that Cork County Council would write back to the Minister for Social Protection Ms Heather Humphreys and ask the Department to revise their position.