Officials said there was a “strong moral case” for a Covid death-in-service payment for health workers, and that it would provide “reassurance” to those who continued to work in hospitals and other facilities during the pandemic.
A series of Department of Health submissions explained how there was no legal obligation to pay anything extra to those who died while providing healthcare during the Covid crisis.
The department were also advised that any scheme would not be compensation for “any specific wrong”, but simply a payment made as a gesture.
Under the scheme, the families of healthcare workers who lost their lives through Covid-19 infection are to be paid €100,000, with applications for the scheme set to open shortly.
A note ahead of a memo for Government said that by March 2021, some 15 healthcare workers had lost their lives after being infected with Covid-19 while working.
It said: “While the State may not have a legal obligation to make payments to families in these circumstances, there is a strong moral case for ensuring that families bereaved in such circumstances do not face hardship.
It said the scheme should cover people in frontline health and social care roles, including anybody who provided “hands-on personal care” for those infected with coronavirus, or where the virus was present.
The note said the department’s clinical indemnity unit wished to “avoid the creation of rights” and that the scheme should be legislated for.
It explained how the initial draft scheme payment would be set at €60,000 in line with what was being paid in a similar UK scheme.
However, officials said that following consultation, the final amount had been “left blank” for determination by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.
The note also cautioned about possible legal issues where the payment would be made to the legal representative of the deceased person.
It warned that this “could generate legal disputes and/or animosity between family members/dependents of the deceased”.
The note said eligibility for the scheme would be “narrowly specified”, but that it would cover a broad range of health and social care workers.
The note explained: “Payments will only be made in respect of workers exposed to Covid-19 in circumstances where they could not reasonably avoid that risk by virtue of the nature and location of their work.”
The note estimated that more than 143,000 HSE workers would be eligible for the scheme, with up to 90,000 others also eligible working in private hospitals, primary care, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities.
It said that while direct HSE employees already had access to death-in-service benefits, that might not be true for other healthcare workers.
The note said: “[Benefits] are likely to vary significantly, with many lower-paid workers likely to have little or no provision.”
A submission following consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure said that the scheme needed to be moved forward because it represented an “important commitment” by the minister.
In August last year, Mr Donnelly wrote directly to Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath, raising concerns that public expenditure officials believed the scheme “should not proceed at this time”.
Mr Donnelly wrote: “We must not delay supporting the families of those who took considerable personal risks to protect us all and have paid the ultimate price.”
The scheme was eventually approved in January of this year, by which time 21 healthcare workers had passed away from Covid-19 infection.
A statement from the Department of Health said: “The minister and the department are aware of the tragic deaths of a small number of healthcare workers due to Covid-19 contracted in the course of their work.
"The minister received Government approval to make a payment of €100,000 to the next-of-kin of these workers. The scheme has been developed in co-operation with Pobal, who will process applications and make a recommendation to the minister.
“Care has been taken to make the application process as simple and sensitive as possible, and it is intended to open for applications shortly.”