Healthcare workers who cannot find childcare will be allowed to stay home to mind their children and be paid, unions have been told.
The issue has raised significant problems for the HSE, as much-needed frontline staff have struggled to make arrangements after the closure of schools and creches, along with the cocooning of older relatives who would previously have been able to assist.
New arrangements proposed by the Taoiseach last week for partners of frontline workers to be facilitated in their workplaces to deliver childcare were criticised by unions, on the basis that they would not be of any use to cohorts of workers, in particular lone parents.
It is understood that during contacts this afternoon, the HSE confirmed that where healthcare workers could not find childcare, they would be able to remain at home and be paid.
Sources said the HSE had put forward a solution on childcare that would apply to essential and non-essential healthcare workers, so that after exhausting roster flexibility, those with caring responsibilities (confirmed as including childcare) and having difficulty attending would be facilitated to work from home.
Normal salary plus allowances would apply, said the sources.
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The HSE said its position remains that it intends to work collaboratively with staff, to be as flexible as possible to ensure that issues relating to supporting childcare arrangements are balanced with its responsibilities to provide critical health services during this pandemic.
It said its overriding goal was to ensure flexibility and creativity in working with staff and managers in this regard.
Contacted by RTÉ News, the General Secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, welcomed the move, noting that nurses account for a third of the healthcare workforce, with 92% of nursing grades made up of female members.
"You can't clap nurses on the back today for their excellent work and then discriminate against them on childcare issues tomorrow," Ms Ní Sheaghdha said.
Revised guidelines published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform today state: "In circumstances where one parent/guardian/partner is an essential healthcare worker, the other parent/guardian/partner will be supported by their public sector employer to remain at home to care for the child(ren) so as to ensure that the essential healthcare worker is able to go to work.
"In the first instance, flexible working arrangements will be put in place for the other parent/ guardian/partner such as working from home or working adjusted hours/ shifts.
"Though not anticipated, in the event that flexible arrangements do not allow the essential healthcare worker to attend work it will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis."