Nurses moved their children and didn't see them for up to eight weeks during the Covid-19 outbreak, the Oireachtas committee on the virus has heard.
Phil Ni Sheaghda, General Secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), told the committee nurses made "an extraordinary sacrifice" in order to go to work at the height of the outbreak.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha told the committee nurses were "meeting resistance" to their children returning to childcare providers. She said the public needed to be informed that children of healthcare workers are not infectious and better testing for nurses was needed.
Ahead of the appearance at the committee, the INMO today released the finding of a survey it carried out, which showed that:
- 62% of nurses have taken annual leave to care for children
- 22% are using paid childminders
- 10% are using grandparents
- 69% did not have a partner available to provide childcare - due to being a single parent or their partner is a frontline worker
The INMO has recommended that any expenses on childcare be reimbursed and annual leave be compensated as well as priority access to childcare for frontline workers.
Ms Ní Sheaghda said nurses now "feel abandoned" and were taking care of children after long overnight shifts. She said that fatigue was a "huge issue" and impacted infection controls in healthcare settings.
"There has rightly been applause and praise for frontline healthcare workers over the past three months. Yet when the applause dies down, many will be left out of pocket and without any leave. Our members say they feel abandoned.
“We have long sought a solution to the childcare problem facing our members. They want to do their jobs, while also knowing that their children are being looked after. This is not an unreasonable demand.
“Nobody doubts that childcare in a pandemic is a difficult issue, but so far that difficulty has landed on those who are taking the greatest risks during the pandemic.
One in ten Covid cases in this country are nurses. We must support them better.
Ms Ní Sheaghda told the committee that staffing levels were further affected by both travel restrictions and a world-high infection rate among healthcare workers.
"Last year 1,819 of the nurses who registered in Ireland were from non-EU countries, predominantly the Philippines and India. Given the travel restrictions imposed since Covid-19, they are obviously not in a position to travel and help us to maintain staffing in our health service.
"The second major issue that has affected staffing levels has been the infection rate among healthcare workers. At the moment Ireland is top of the league, with the highest infection rate of healthcare workers globally. That is an absolute scandal."
Ms Ní Sheaghda said that the infection rate was attributable to a lack of PPE. She said that one nurse had been sent home for wearing a mask in the early days of the outbreak due to it not being HSE policy to wear one.
Later the committee heard that creche facilities may have to reduce capacity because newer staff will not be covered by the government's Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.
The Association of Childhood Professionals told the committee that extra staff would be needed to maintain adult-to-children ratios in the new "play pod" models but without the subsidy, capacity would be reduced. The association's chair Marian Quinn told the committee this would cause "sustainability issues" in the sector.
"If their staff are not eligible under the wage subsidy scheme the providers will have to find the full level of funding to be able to pay the wages for those staff members. Effectively, their employers will have to pay the full wage.
"All those things are going to add to the providers' financial outlay while there will be limitations on their incomes because they will not come back with 100% capacity for children. We will only see over time how that capacity will increase across the summer. Without a doubt, there will be sustainability issues."