Healthcare workers with long Covid who are unable to work will see their Special Leave with Pay scheme end this month.

Frontline workers with long Covid face uncertainty

Frontline health workers suffering with long Covid have been “abysmally let down” as the end of their Special Leave with Pay scheme looms this month, a Cork County Councillor has said.

The Special Leave with Pay scheme for healthcare workers who contracted long Covid in the line of duty was introduced in 2022 and was recently extended until 31 October.

The extension was the result of efforts by the ICTU group of unions representing health workers who called on the Department of Health to urgently extend the scheme which was set to expire on 30 June.

Independent Cllr Liam Quaide said the “cliff edge” date of 31 October has introduced additional stress into the lives of health workers with long Coved, many of whom may have to retire on medical grounds and will not be able to pay their mortgages and meet their other cost of living expenses such as college fees for children.

“There is no clear medical route out of this condition,” said Cllr Quaide. “They may be afflicted with debilitating fatigue after activities as basic as doing a grocery shop, or even require rest after tasks such as showering.

“Many are struggling with physical pains, migraines, vertigo and cognitive difficulties, and their quality-of-life is greatly diminished as a result,” he added.

Many of the workers’ hopes of going back to work are remote or uncertain, continued Cllr Quaide. “Many of these healthcare workers have paid an enormous price for their sacrifices and are now reckoning with the potential loss of their careers and financial security,” he added.

Cllr Quaide asked that Cork County Council write to HSE CEO Bernard Gloster and ask that he consider his duty of care as the overall manager of these workers.

“Mr Gloster has been very good to meet people impacted by health system injustices, and this is a very substantial cohort of his staff whose lives have been changed utterly,” said Cllr Quaide.

“It will be a further indignity and injustice if these frontline workers have to pursue their right to financial security through an adversarial legal system on an individual basis, and for some they will be statute barred from doing so,” he added.

Cork County Council officials agreed to write to the HSE asking that Mr Gloster would agree to meet with a group of affected healthcare workers in private to hear their accounts first hand.

“Healthcare workers received a round of applause from Oireachtas members in 2020 for their courageous dedication during the darkest months of the pandemic. That now rings hollow for many of this cohort of long Covid sufferers as they face a very uncertain future. It’s time they were looked after and given some concrete assurances about their financial security,” concluded Cllr Quaide.