The Health Service Executive in Galway has informed asylum seekers availing of a temporary accommodation scheme for healthcare workers that they should find somewhere else to stay.

This is despite repeated statements from the HSE that the scheme "is not being discontinued."

RTÉ News has seen documents sent by HSE Community Healthcare West to 14 healthcare workers availing of the scheme in Galway.

RTÉ News understands that at least ten are asylum seekers, and most work in nursing homes.

In one letter they were told that as the accommodation scheme "can cease at any stage" they "should now be making arrangements for alternative accommodation."

A follow-up email gave the healthcare workers until the end of last month to provide it with a date for when they would be exiting the scheme.

"I look forward to receiving an update from you before the end of April on your proposed plans and date to move from the... Hotel," the email from HSE Community Healthcare West read.

While that date has passed, HSE Community Healthcare West confirmed to RTÉ News that "engagement on future accommodation plans of the individuals will continue."

It said that "staff availing of this temporary accommodation on a long-term basis were advised last month to consider their future accommodation options and to provide an update on their future accommodation plans."

It added that while the scheme "is not currently being discontinued, it is not a permanent scheme."

Local Independent TD Catherine Connolly has queried HSE Community Healthcare West's interpretation of the scheme and said what is happening is "not acceptable."

"I have no idea how this interpretation could be taken, particularly in a city where we have a most serious housing crisis," Ms Connolly told RTÉ News.

"It is clear that the accommodation is temporary. It is clear that the workers understand this, but the pandemic hasn't gone away as we know... my frustration as an elected TD is palpable, I can only imagine what it is like for the workers trying to work under these conditions," Ms Connolly added.

RTÉ News has spoken to three of those affected. All want to remain anonymous.

"You're just drained basically, and you work these long long hours and having to come back and not know where you are going to live... I can tell you, it's just too much"

"Recently that's when it all changed," Mary (not her real name) told RTÉ News, "we were told we had to find alternative accommodation."

Mary works in a nursing home in Galway city and has been availing of the scheme for more than six months. Previously she lived in a direct provision centre.

"You're just drained basically, and you work these long long hours and having to come back and not know where you are going to live... I can tell you, it's just too much," Mary says.

The HSE Temporary Accommodation Scheme was set up over a year ago in line with a recommendation from NPHET.

Healthcare workers living in direct provision are among those provided for under the scheme.

Section 2.6 of its National Guidance Document sets out that healthcare workers who reside in "in congregated domestic settings" such as "direct provision centres" are "encouraged to consider their eligibility to re-locate" and are "advised of the benefits for themselves, other staff and service users in opting for the temporary accommodation service."

HSE statements to RTÉ News that the scheme "is not being discontinued," have been reflected in recent answers to parliamentary questions asked by Deputy Connolly and People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, which stated that:

"The temporary accommodation scheme for staff will continue to operate as long as we are in a Covid-19 environment and there is demand from healthcare workers who continue to meet the necessary eligibility criteria."

"It is communicated on a regular basis that the scheme will continue to operate as long as needed..." these statements added.

In addition, the HSE informed RTÉ News that "if and when a decision is made to amend it or discontinue it on foot of the successful roll-out of the HSE Vaccination Programme, communication will take place with all relevant stakeholders."

In the meantime, there is also confusion over whether asylum seekers can currently return to live in direct provision and stay working in healthcare.

RTÉ News has seen correspondence from the International Protection Accommodation Services, which oversees Direct Provision, to some of these healthcare workers telling them that they cannot.

However, a spokesperson for the Department for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, which in turn oversees IPAS, told RTÉ News that "that is not the position of this Department" and it is examining the matter.

"I've been under so much stress, I've even thought of leaving my job and going back to the (direct provision) centre. I felt like I was caught between a rock and a hard place"

"I love my work very much," Zara (not her real name) told RTÉ News.

Zara also works in a nursing home and speaks of how rewarding she finds her work.

"But I've been under so much stress, I've even thought of leaving my job and going back to the (direct provision) centre. I felt like I was caught between a rock and a hard place," Zara said.

HSE Community Healthcare West has cited a "dramatic decline in the demand for the HSE accommodation" as the context in which it "was considered appropriate" to contact each of the 14 people availing of the scheme in Galway individually.

It said that this is done to avoid these workers being "placed in a crisis situation when the HSE temporary accommodation scheme ends."

Responding to another parliamentary question submitted by Deputy Connolly, the HSE confirmed that as of last week that 1,014 healthcare workers are currently availing of the scheme.

This is down from a peak of 3,534 healthcare workers availing of the scheme at the end of January this year, but it is a multiple of the lowest uptake, 270 healthcare workers in early August 2020.

The healthcare workers RTÉ spoke to are being supported by a local volunteer group, Shining Light Galway.

"They've been working very hard but the whole situation with their accommodation has been very stressful for them" volunteer Vusi Thabethe said.

The group has contacted a number of local Councillors and TDs, including Ms Connolly.

"They've been looking into the situation and replying to us... our main goal is to shine a light on these situations and hopefully we can have an effect," Mr Thabethe said.

Nevertheless, Amy (not her real name) feels her future in the HSE scheme remains uncertain.

"It's a major aspect of my life. If it's not stable it affects my work," Amy says.

Like the other healthcare workers RTÉ spoke to, Amy works in a nursing home in Galway.

"I am not looking for appreciation, I am passionate about my job, it's just the circumstances that surround it now are making it difficult for me to cope at work."

Last month, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth told the Dáil that he was engaging with the HSE on why placements had ended even though the scheme continues to operate.

Roderic O'Gorman's comments followed a report by RTÉ News that two asylum seekers who worked in nursing homes had to leave their jobs when they were told they could no longer avail of the scheme.

They were then moved to Direct Provision centres between 90km and 200km from their places of work.

Mr O'Gorman told the Dáil that he would "work to better engage with the HSE... so we can ensure that the kind of disjointed actions that happened in the situations that have been brought to the attention of the media recently don't happen again."