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The Rural Independent Group has strongly criticised the government’s inaction at addressing the staffing crisis in health. This follows the release of new information in a parliamentary reply, to the group’s Leader, Deputy Mattie Mc Grath, which confirmed a mere 0.4 per cent of healthcare workers who applied to “Be On Call For Ireland”, have been recruited.

The Rural TDs said that the figures showed “ongoing government ineptitude” as only 321 staff had been recruited from  the ‘Be on Call for Ireland’ initiative, despite hospitals being hampered by persistent staff shortages.

“To much fanfare, at the beginning of this pandemic, Minister Harris and the HSE launched a campaign to ‘Be on Call for Ireland’. Some 73,300 signed up, in a genuine act of personal and civic solidarity, to support Ireland’s health system. Despite a major staffing crisis in every hospital and many residential care settings only 321 of those who applied, were recruited,” said Deputy Mattie McGrath.

“This outcome represents a betrayal by government of those who applied; current overworked and stressed staff working in hospitals; and, every citizen who depends on the availability of healthcare services,” he claimed.

The Tipperary TD said it was another example of government by press release’rather than by action.

“Many of those who signed up to this initiative, did so on the basis that the government could be trusted. Some came from as far away as Australia, in a genuine attempt to support Ireland’s darkest hour,” he said.

“The senseless nature of not recruiting, has been laid bare in recent weeks by the absolute devastation across the hospital sector. For example, Cork University Hospital (CUH), triggered an emergency “tiered escalation plan” to manage the unfolding Covid-19 crisis which has left staffing levels in “freefall” across the health service.”

“Meanwhile, in another extraordinary move, illustrating the complete lack of leadership and strategy within government, the HSE last week launched yet another ‘urgent call’ for nurses and care assistants, through the Cork Volunteer Centre,” he said.

Deputy McGrath said “the overall impact of not recruiting has resulted in over 600,000 inpatient, day case, and outpatient appointments being suspended in light of the deepening Covid-19 crisis.”

“Many reports from across the country indicate that the staffing situation in many hospitals has reached dire levels, resulting in ward closures, rosters being unfilled, and services reaching unmanageable levels.”

“Ironically, the HSEs National Director of Acute Services, informed the Dáil Health Committee last month that significant numbers of health workers are constantly absent due to infection, close contact or the need to care for others, advising that in acute hospital settings alone, over 6,500 workers are on sick leave. 2,500 of those absent are nurses.”

“We have heard from Health workers, who are stressed beyond breaking point while doing their utmost to serve the public. They have all been let down by the government.”

“While the Government continues to spin the line that they intend to hire 16,000 additional healthcare staff this year, but judging by their lack of ambition around the Be On Call for Ireland programme, it is very difficult to comprehend how this will be possible.”

“We are urgently calling on the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to explain his complete lack of any action on addressing the staffing crisis, despite significant availability of professionally trained frontline workers offering their services,” he said.

The Rural TDs  said the “gross incompetence” was another example of “this government’s reliance on spin over substance”.

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