Health workers want better protective gear for Omicron surge


Exhausted nurses facing a second Covid Christmas want all staff to be issued high level protective face masks urgently to defeat the threat posed by the new Omicron variant.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization (INMO) will meet with the HSE today to discuss ways to work with the increased transmissibility of this variant.

Although healthcare workers started receiving reminders in early November, since then there have been more than 1,838 cases of Covid-19 among staff.

INMO industrial relations director Tony Fitzpatrick warned yesterday that nurses are already tired. He estimated that more than half of those Covid cases are nurses, midwives and health care assistants because they spend the most time with patients.

“It’s another Covid Christmas, those on the front line are struggling,” he said.

“In general, the services are so busy. Now we’re trying to run multiple services including Covid testing and tracing, vaccinations, so it’s a bigger service than it was two years ago.

INMO and other health unions have collectively written to the HSE over concerns over masking and ventilation, he said.

“We say we need to raise our standards. FFP2 masks should now be used as standard for health service personnel,” he said.

“The evidence is that it provides better protection than surgical masks.” FFP2 (Level 2 Filtering Facepiece) masks are now mandatory even for the public in parts of Europe, including Austria and for some public places in Germany.

Mr Fitzpatrick understands that the HSE Estates is reviewing the ventilation standards for its properties and said there were concerns about the lack of uniformity around this.

“Take Cork as an example, CUH (Cork University Hospital) seems to have a fairly good ventilation system and Hepa filtration,” he said, saying that in other hospitals union members have reported concerns. their concerns about the lack of these same systems.

Concerns about staffing shortages are such even now that vaccinated asymptomatic healthcare workers who are close contacts can voluntarily choose to skip isolation in discussion with management under a ‘waiver agreement’.

It states: “The risk to patient safety due to absences of essential healthcare workers should be considered and the person may return assuming that efforts have been made to find replacements.

The Ministry of Health yesterday confirmed 4,799 new cases of Covid-19. There were 467 hospitalized Covid patients, including 104 in intensive care.

In the meantime, the Minister of Tourism has launched a new live performance support program to support events planned for December and January.

Catherine Martin met with representatives of the performing arts sector yesterday, as well as Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, to discuss the impact of these new restrictions.

Programs now open for applications include €20 million specifically to support live shows scheduled for December and January, which may have to be cancelled, reduced or rescheduled due to the new restrictions. Up to 100% of eligible production costs will be funded.

An additional €5 million for the seasonal musical theater and pantomime program was also announced.

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