The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) must be given the power to investigate the high Covid-19 infection rate among healthcare staff, the Oireachtas Committee on Covid-19 heard.
The committee heard from trade unions representing healthcare workers about high exposure rates to Covid-19, which has led to more than 8,300 healthcare staff contracting the virus to date, one-third of which were nurses and midwives.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), Forsa, and SIPTU made the call for increased capacity and staffing. To date, more than 8,300 healthcare staff have contracted Covid-19, of which a third were nurses and midwives.
“We believe it’s time for the Health and Safety Authority to be involved. We believe that an examination of the high infection rate among healthcare workers must be examined by the statutory agency that is tasked with that particular responsibility,” INMO general secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said.
Frontline nurse Siobhan Murphy, one of 2,711 nurses infected, was out of work for 12 weeks and does not expect to return until October or November.
The 27-year-old said 12 out of 19 nurses on her ward were infected.
“I was crippled with fatigue, bed-bound with headaches, I had extreme shortness of breath, which caused great distress as I felt I was suffocating,” she explained, adding the psychological impact was "detrimental" and staff required greater support for post-traumatic stress.
The INMO said a “funded workforce plan” and 5,000 nurses and midwives are needed.
SIPTU honorary vice-president Michele Monahan, a radiographer at Connolly Hospital in Dublin, said "more" of everything was needed to operate Covid and non-Covid services.
“In one word what do we need to meet the capacity - more. More staff, more equipment, more space, more of everything, otherwise it’s not going to work”.
The HSE later told the committee workforce and winter plans are being developed and also signalled it may relax the two-metre social distancing rule as services reopen.
“We take advice on infection prevention control from experts in that field who advise that it is safe to decrease that distance from two metres to one metre of separation," HSE Health Protection lead Lorraine Doherty said, adding the healthcare environment was “more controlled” than social environments.