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Frontline health staff may not get Covid bonus worth up to €1,000 before end of June

Ministers had indicated that the money would be paid to health staff, who performed heroic duties in the face of a relentless Covid onslaught, in February or March.

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Anne Marie Walsh

A pandemic recognition bonus worth either €600 or €1,000 may not be paid to thousands of frontline healthcare workers until June, it has emerged.

Ministers had indicated that the money would be paid to health staff, who performed heroic duties in the face of a relentless Covid onslaught, in February or March.

However, a row erupted over the value of the award and the number of staff that would qualify for it.

A Department of Health spokesperson said last night consultations between the department, the Health Service Executive (HSE) and health unions have taken place in the last few of weeks to finalise the “application of this measure fairly”.

“Full details of the application process, frequently asked questions and other particulars shall be published by the HSE,” she said.

“It is intended that payments will be instructed in the coming days.”

Stock image: Getty Images

She said separately that arrangements for healthcare workers in private nursing homes and hospices are “currently being progressed” by the department.

Union sources said the payment process is likely to take weeks, and many staff may not get the bonus until the end of June, as line managers apply the eligibility criteria.

They said the department proposed a deadline for appeals relating to the payment by July 31 this year at a meeting last Thursday.

A source said the department’s comment that payments will be instructed shortly is likely to relate to a circular being finalised by the HSE. It is expected to detail the requirements for the payment.

It is understood that the HSE is waiting for the Department of Health to sign off on the document. The circular relates to HSE and “section 38” employees, who work for state-funded agencies.

Under the latest draft proposals, staff must have worked in a “Covid-exposed environment” to be entitled to a payment.

Part-time workers, including retired staff and students, who worked less than 60pc of the full-time hours of a worker in their grade would be eligible for a €600 bonus.

Those who worked 60pc or more of full-time contracted hours will get a €1,000 bonus.

Workers must have a minimum of four weeks’ service to qualify.

Unions had urged the HSE to streamline its original plan.

Sources claimed it could have been the end of the year before payment would have been made under the initial proposal.

Unions argued that the original terms that meant a variety of payment amounts would be offered were too complicated,

A minimum payment of €200 would have applied under the proposals.

Although the HSE reduced the number of potential payment amounts, it has refused to budge on the time frame in which the payment will apply, from March 2020 to June 30 last year.

It abandoned an initial proposal that meant staff would have had to apply for the bonus.

Those who will be eligible are healthcare staff prioritised for vaccination in a document in January last year, described as ‘category 1 and 2’ workers.

They would have dealt directly with patients, or were at heightened risk of contracting the virus.

Health unions are not expected to agree to the plan.

They had demanded that all workers get a €1,000 payment and rejected the timeframe for the payment up to last June.

They argued that the fight against Covid is ongoing and large numbers of staff have been absent due to waves of the virus since then.

The €1,000 tax-free recognition payment was announced last January.

A once-off public holiday was also unveiled for March 18 last, in recognition of the public, volunteers and workers and in remembrance of those who lost their lives.

It was also announced that from next year, there will be an extra public holiday at the start of February to mark St Brigid’s Day.

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