Failure to address the childcare needs of healthcare workers 'inexcusable' says Laois TD

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

Email:

news@leinsterexpress.ie

Failure to address the childcare needs of healthcare workers 'inexcusable'  says Laois TD

The cancellation of the government's childcare scheme for frontline health workers is 'inexcusable', according to Sinn Féin Laois/Offaly TD Brian Stanley.

Dep Stanley also claimed that the Government's refusal to indemnify childcare workers for Covid-19 related claims is a significant contributing factor in the cancellation of the scheme.

"Last week, Sinn Féin raised significant issues relating to the failure of the government to provide an indemnity to workers providing childcare to frontline healthcare staff during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some health workers in Laois/Offaly are in a very difficult situation as they are trying to work shifts and variable hours providing frontline services. These workers are also trying to care for their children who are out of créches or school.

"This came after the main underwriter in the sector, Allianz, told childcare providers that they would not provide cover for Covid-19 related claims.

"The broker Arachas Insurance engaged with the government on this issue, calling on them to indemnify providers and workers offering childcare to frontline staff - but the government refused to do so.

"The failure to address this issue fatally undermined the scheme, and it has now been cancelled. This is inexcusable.

"The Department of Children and Youth Affairs had been planning this emergency childcare service for some time and has known about this issue. It is incredible that this could not be resolved and that the Minister has now cancelled this scheme.

"It beggars belief that we are into the third month of this pandemic, and the government still has not found a solution to this issue - despite repeated announcements that they would. Both childcare workers and frontline health workers have been left in limbo once again," said the TD.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone today announced on Thursday that the Temporary Childcare Scheme for Essential Health Workers will not proceed on the 18 May as planned.

A statement said the scheme was launched last Thursday with a call to childcare services to volunteer to provide childcare for health workers in their homes. Uptake for the scheme among childcare providers has been much lower than was hoped, with only six providers applying to join the scheme so far.  Her Department said it has become clear that the low uptake is unlikely to change.

The Scheme was designed in response to a request from the Department of Health and the HSE to put emergency childcare in place for essential health workers. In developing a scheme that satisfies public health requirements, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs worked closely with public health officials and colleagues across Government and took on board feedback from the sector in relation to the operation of such a scheme.

A statement from Minister Zappone's Department said a variety of reasons have been put forward for the low sign-up rate.  These include: availability of insurance cover, concerns about possible virus transmission, difficulties in meeting employer responsibilities in relation to breaks and rest periods, and concerns about a lack of protection for staff working alone.

The Department said it was always conscious of the fact that the 27,000 workforce consisted predominantly of women, many of whom had their own parental and caring responsibilities and some of whom had underlying health conditions.  However, it said it had hoped that sufficient numbers would come forward to enable the scheme to operate.

The scheme that was announced involved childcare practitioners working on an outreach basis in the homes of health workers, with childcare providers and their staff being paid for the service. The funding allowed for payment of an average wage of €15 per hour for childcare practitioners, in addition to associated employer costs, as well as a management overhead to provide for supervision and support. Guidance, developed in collaboration with the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) in the HSE, was made available to providers on how to meet public health advice.

A statement added that the Minister noted that the challenge of introducing childcare provision at this time is a difficult one given the important public health restrictions in place.  While the home-based approach met public health requirements, the provision of this type of model raised other difficulties, and the sector were concerned generally about potential health impacts amidst continued strict social distancing rules.

A statement said it was a temporary response in an emergency situation which required participants to operate outside of their normal environments.

The Minister noted that her Department remains strongly focused on developing solutions to the significant challenges of a phased reopening of early learning and childcare facilities for 29 June in line with the Government’s Roadmap on Reopening Society and Business.

A statement said the Department of Children and Youth Affairs will continue to work with Government colleagues, public health officials and the childcare sector, and to this end the Minister met with a number of representatives of providers and staff on Wednesday.