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Career breaks under consideration for staff due to Covid impact

The HSE has listed ‘career breaks’ as one of a range of potential supports for employees as a result of the significant strain of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is despite an acknowledgement that adequate staffing is the biggest challenge in the restoration of regular healthcare services this year. In a recent document entitled, ‘A safe return to health services – Restoring health and social care services in a Covid environment’, the HSE outlines there is an acceptance of a likely increase in demand for a range of resources, such as ongoing psychological supports for staff, due to the impact of the pandemic.

“In response we have developed a psychosocial framework, to provide the supports required. In this context, attrition of existing staff may be a significant risk to a given speciality or to the organisation, or both,” according to the document, which was completed in March 2021.

“This will require careful management with consideration being given to redeployment, retraining or career breaks, for example.”

However, the most critical challenge to restoring health and social care services in a Covid-19 environment is adequate staffing, according to the HSE. The document also states that while it is expected absenteeism will decrease overall, in line with the reducing number of cases and the impact of vaccination, annual leave will be carried over into the latter
half of the year and will impact on staffing. It states the recruitment of additional whole-time-equivalent staff could mitigate the effect of annual leave being carried over.

The report noted how during the third surge of Covid-19, staffing levels fell “considerably” in various sites.
The Medical Independent recently reported how 6,700 staff were on Covid-related absence during one week in January. Despite the reduction in numbers of Covid-19 cases, all services will be required to protect Covid pathways of care through the “phased prioritised restoration of services” and a continued focus on hospital avoidance through the ongoing development of enhanced community services.

The document also acknowledges there will continue to be reduced capacity in the healthcare system, due to social distancing and infection prevention and control requirements.

“Decisions in relation to the type and volume of activity will be made at site level based on local case numbers, available capacity and guidance from national clinical leads,” according to the document.

“Ongoing vigilance with regard to infection prevention and control measures will be essential given the vulnerability of healthcare settings to Covid-19 transmission. The need to parallel Covid and non-Covid pathways will also impact on the pace of service restoration.”

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