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Almost 1,000 reported cases of ‘occupational Covid’ in HCWs

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has been notified of 992 occupational cases of Covid-19 in healthcare workers (HCWs) from November to July. However, data held by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), covering a similar period, indicates the number of workplace-acquired cases in healthcare is significantly higher.

A spokesperson for the HSA told the Medical Independent (MI) it had received 613 Covid-19 notifications relating to 992 employee cases of disease in healthcare settings, from 24 November 2020 to 2 July 2021.

Since 24 November 2020, employers are required to notify occupational cases of Covid-19 illness and deaths to the HSA under the Biological Agents Regulations.

According to HPSC data, there were over 16,700 cases of Covid-19 infection in HCWs from November 2020 to April 2021. Some 40.2 per cent of these infections were described as “healthcare setting acquired: Staff” and 1.1 per cent as “healthcare setting acquired: Patient”.

During this period, some 392 HCWs were hospitalised, and 41 admitted to intensive care units. Nine deaths were reported. The HSE informed MI its current estimate for the number of HCWs with post-Covid syndrome is 300 to 500.

Meanwhile, the HSA’s investigations into the deaths of 17 HCWs from Covid-19 are “progressing”. The Authority investigates “all work-related fatalities”, according to its spokesperson.

“Currently, the Authority are aware of 17 deaths in healthcare workers. The Authority’s investigations into these particular cases are progressing and are at various stages of completion.”

The State Claims Agency informed MI that, to date, three claims had been made against the HSE by HCWs due to illness arising from Covid-19 infection, which was allegedly acquired in the workplace. One claim had been made in regard to a HCW who died.

In respect of patients/residents in health and social care settings, one claim had been made regarding infection and seven claims in respect of deaths. Four of these seven claims concerned private nursing home deaths.

Legal experts have previously told MI that employer categorisation of infections as workplace-acquired could strengthen potential cases taken by HCWs. However, in general, establishing that the infection occurred in the workplace may prove difficult.

Last year, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced his intention to launch a compensation scheme for families of HCWs who died from Covid-19, where it was likely the infection was contracted at work.

Preparations for this scheme are “advanced” and the Minister hopes to make further information available “in the coming weeks”, said a Department spokesperson. “Any payment made under the scheme will have no impact on the right of a person/family to take legal action.”

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