24 Sept 2022

Nursing homes chief hits out at ‘incredulous’ delay in paying pandemic bonus

Nursing homes chief hits out at ‘incredulous’ delay in paying pandemic bonus

Groups representing healthcare workers have criticised an “incredulous” delay in receiving their pandemic bonus after it was revealed that the Government is now issuing a tender for the rollout.

The Department of Health confirmed that the HSE is tendering for a third party to carry out what it called a “complex” process to pay the bonus to non-HSE workers – eight months on from the announcement of the 1,000 euro bonus.

It said that this was being done so that “duplicate payments” would be avoided, and because “many organisations” are involved in the process.

Issues have also arisen with paying the bonus to Defence Force and Fire Brigade paramedics who were redeployed to the Covid-19 frontline at periods when the healthcare system was under severe strain.

On January 19, a tax-free payment of 1,000 euros was announced for eligible frontline healthcare workers and staff in private nursing homes and hospices, in recognition of their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Work began on issuing the payment from April, but Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) and the Alliance of Health Care Assistants in Ireland (AHCAI) have said that workers they represent have yet to receive their pandemic bonus.

CEO of the NHI, Tadhg Daly, said: “It is incredulous that the State, which holds records regarding every individual’s employment and documented the rollout of the vaccination to 40,000 employees within our sector in a short period, cannot establish a mechanism to rollout the payment with minimum fuss.”

AHCAI chair Clare Doyle said the organisation was “very much aware there are complexities and processes entailed in the rollout of the payment and we have been very patient and understanding”.

“However, after eight months of the Department of Health and the HSE working on this project, it is unbelievable that they are still unable to implement a practical plan of action to finalise payments.

She continued: “The actions of the State are shocking and unacceptable.

“Incredibly, it now appears extra finances will be utilised for a third-party contractor to assist with this payment process. The unacceptable delay in processing this payment is disheartening to the many who did such valuable work.”

In a statement, the Department of Health said “the vast majority” of HSE and Section 38 workers had received the bonus payment.

About 122,667 of these staff members had received the payment as of September 9, it said.

But the Department that the HSE “is tendering for an external provider” to roll out the payment to private, voluntary and Section 39 workers in nursing homes and hospices; to eligible staff working at long-term residential care facilities for people with disabilities; to agency workers within the HSE; and to home care workers contracted to the HSE.

The external provider will “assist in setting up and implementing the process of gathering required information from the relevant employers to facilitate payment to their eligible staff”.

“This is a complex process as these staff are not HSE employees, duplicate payments need to be avoided, and there are many organisations involved.

“Once a provider is contracted and details on this payment process are published, the Department is keen that payments to eligible workers will be made as soon as possible thereafter,” the Department of Health said.

Issues have also arose in paying the bonus to Defence Forces members redeployed to work in Covid-exposed environments for the HSE as well as paramedics employed by Dublin Fire Brigade to deliver services on behalf of the HSE.

The Department of Health said it is “engaging with the Department of Defence, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to progress payments to these cohorts as soon as possible”.

“There are complexities associated with redeployed staff, as it is important to ensure that the eligibility criteria are applied fairly, in light of how the criteria have been applied for HSE staff.”

Mr Daly added: “Staff in nursing homes feel insulted by the extended and unacceptable delay that has manifested. So much of the goodwill and gratitude that this payment was meant to signify has been eroded amongst these workers that were so valiant during the pandemic.

“It is devaluing on a day-by-day basis too, given inflation since January. It is so disappointing and damning of the State that it has not seen fit to have this payment rolled out for nearly a year after it was announced.”

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