Home care workers have called on the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health to immediately help them source surgical face masks as they have just three days' supply available. 

Home and Community Care Ireland (HCCI), the national representative body for home care providers, say newly announced recommendations for home carers to wear face masks to protect against Covid-19 have put the sector under severe pressure. 

Speaking on RTÉ's This Week programme, HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid said the executive is in negotiations across the world to source "a very rapid and quick supply of masks." 

HCCI Chief Executive Joseph Musgrave said his organisation's members need 170,000 face masks per week and needs to secure more supplies quickly. 

He said: "Out of 20,000 people we care for, we only have 56 Covid positive clients which is a testament to the carers and to the providers who provide that care. We need a plan for the entire industry. Part of this is masks. 

"We quickly need to work with the HSE and the Department of Health to work out. We need 170,000 face masks a week.

"So how are we going to procure these masks? Where are we going to deploy them? And how are we going to communicate to all of those people who require care, to ensure they know who needs a mask, who doesn’t, just to reassure them about their safety?" 

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He said supply levels of masks among care providers vary from a few weeks to just a few days. He has written to Minister for Health Simon Harris this weekend to highlight concerns within the sector. 

Mr Reid acknowledged that the issue put significant pressure "immediately on us because we would normally use during this phase about 200,000 masks a day.

"The calculations which we do now based on all the demands which will be that it will rise to about 1.2 million per day. So we are currently in discussions and negotiations across the world to extend a very rapid and quick supply of masks." 

He said the supply of masks will be scaled up and carers will be part of that distribution. 

On Wednesday the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) announced new guidelines on the use of surgical masks in healthcare settings.

Mr Musgrave said this announcement took home carers by surprise as it came "without much consultation." 

Under the guidelines, all health workers, including home care workers, have been advised to wear surgical masks when providing care within two metres of a patient. 

They have also been advised to wear them for all encounters, of 15 minutes or more, with other healthcare workers in the workplace where a distance of two metres cannot be maintained.