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‘No legal basis’ for occupational health’s contact management role

The HSE Workplace Health and Wellbeing Unit has obtained a legal opinion, which indicates there is no legal basis for occupational health to be involved in Covid-19 contact management/tracing of healthcare workers, the Medical
Independent (MI)
understands. The area is considered to fall under public health rather than health and safety regulations, it is understood. The legal opinion was obtained earlier this year.

Occupational health was accorded this role at the onset of the pandemic when the healthcare service was in crisis response mode. However, it has placed a considerable ongoing strain on under-resourced occupational health departments, many of which are struggling to undertake their core functions.

As previously reported by MI, the HSE has substantially increased its expenditure on outsourced occupational health services during the pandemic. The HSE spent almost €794,786 on outsourced services in 2020, compared to €99,292 in 2019 and €297,413 in 2018.

Outside of healthcare, Covid-19 contact tracing/management is organised through the HSE’s contact management programme (CMP), but the occupational health departments are not part of the CMP and have poor IT capabilities.

Additionally, occupational health is generally not an evening/weekend service and its work in this area is not standardised nationally.

MI asked the HSE if there were data protection issues arising from this matter and about any plans to remove the function from occupational health departments.

“The legal opinion is under consideration and discussions are ongoing,” said a spokesperson

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