'Archaic' system sees support staff assaulted at work get less leave than healthcare colleagues

'Archaic' system sees support staff assaulted at work get less leave than healthcare colleagues

Dr Laura Finnegan of the Irish Medical Organisation following a joint health committee meeting to discuss the welfare and safety of workers and patients in the public health service. Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

More than a third of serious physical assaults on healthcare workers were against paramedics, porters, and support staff, but these workers are only entitled to 25% of the leave that nurses, doctors, or administration staff get following an attack.

Siptu health division organiser Kevin Figgis told the Oireachtas health committee of the “unequal treatment of benefits which are afforded to support workers by their employer, even if they are assaulted in the same incident as other grades of staff”. 

Siptu's Kevin Figgis.
Siptu's Kevin Figgis.

"This means a security guard or healthcare assistant can get up to three months' leave under the Serious Physical Assault Scheme, and then must rely on sick pay, or possibly no pay if they are unfit to return to work," he said.

HSE data tells us that after three months, 41% of support staff that have been assaulted in the workplace are still unfit to return to work, but they have now run out the course of what they are entitled to under the scheme." 

Siptu was among four healthcare unions on Wednesday highlighting the effects of attacks on health staff to the committee.

The union submitted data showing a nurse in the same situation “will receive up to six months full pay, but may apply for two further extensions for a total of 12 months”. He said this is an “archaic” and “tiered system”.

Fórsa national secretary with responsibility for health and social care professionals Linda Kelly said verbal abuse can be “insidious” and physical abuse is damaging.

“It would be remiss to only focus on the emergency departments," she said. 

It is obviously a particular pinch-point, but we see it across all different areas, our members that are working in social care in particular."

The Irish Medical Organisation’s Dr Laura Finnegan said abuse, including gender-based and racist comments, are common, especially for younger doctors who work nightshifts.

Paediatric nurse Sylvia Chambers. Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos
Paediatric nurse Sylvia Chambers. Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

Children’s emergency department nurse and Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation representative Sylvia Chambers said that after 18 years as a nurse, she is now looking at alternative employment because she is afraid at work.

“It’s not fair on the children, it’s just not fair on sick children,” she said. 

“Fair enough if parents become aggressive after waiting for 12 hours, but they are aggressive checking-in to the reception staff — and that has increased since Covid.” 

The unions also highlighted the lack of support for staff who caught Covid-19 at work and now have long Covid. A paid leave scheme is set to cease in June.

Head of Fórsa's health & welfare division, Ashley Connolly, said of staff with long Covid: "They are very worried about what that means for them financially — how will they pay their mortgage? How will they pay their bills?

Myself and my colleagues have worked very closely on this, but we are meeting a brick wall.”

Staff have told Siptu of having to re-use PPE because of shortages and having to share PPE, leading to potential infections.

The unions have worked together on this issue, but said it is falling between HSE, the Department of Health, and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

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