The Taoiseach has said the €1,000 bonus payment scheme that acknowledges public healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic will be rolled out as soon as possible.

Micheál Martin said Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly will work that out with the HSE.

Public healthcare workers who worked on the frontline are to receive a once-off €1,000 tax free payment under a plan passed by Cabinet yesterday.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Martin said the list is "more or less" finalised, but a panel will be established because it is "complex" in terms of categories of workers.

"There will be a panel created to try and look at categories there may be issues around," he said, adding that there is some work to do yet on some areas.

When asked about workers such as nurses and receptionists in GP practices being included in this scheme, the Taoiseach said there are workers in categories that will not be ruled out, and they are going to look at certain categories.

"People who were in that frontline - engaging with the public and patients coming forward in the medial and health arena – there was clearly a higher risk," he said.

"They have to be the priority."

Mr Martin also said there are a range of categories involved in an area like disabilities, for example.

"That panel I have referenced will look at particular categories of workers in the context of this scheme."

The Taoiseach also said a public inquiry into the Government's handling of Covid-19 will take place, and would help ensure the country is in a stronger position in the event of another pandemic.

He added that the "spirit" of the evaluation should be the right one, and he did not want a situation where people could go into another pandemic looking over their shoulders and fearful of an inquiry.

Mr Martin said such an inquiry would investigate all aspects of the pandemic, as well as the impacts on the health service and improvements that can be made there.

He added that he would like to think some of the reforms introduced during the pandemic could be embedded into the health service.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said there remains ambiguity around which health workers will receive the €1,000 bonus, and that family carers feel let down that they are not in line for the payment.

Speaking in the Dáil, he said the payment was the least they deserved, given that this group's respite hours have been reduced.

Responding, the Tánaiste said the group who will receive the payment are those who were definitely exposed to Covid-19.

Leo Varadkar said the payment does require legislation and will be paid in workers' regular wages in February or March.

He said the Government would this year make the contributory pension available to family carers and this would be more valuable to them.

Call over Covid bonus payment

Alison Harnett, CEO of the National Federation of Voluntary Service Providers, said they are calling for staff supporting people with intellectual disabilities to receive the Covid bonus payment.

Also speaking on Morning Ireland, she said staff providing these services have been "working tirelessly" against the threat of "significant risk" throughout the pandemic.

She said they have written to ministers to seek early confirmation of their staff being included within this bonus payment scheme for what they did on the frontline.

"It is something we hope would be acknowledged", she said, adding that they are optimistic and hopeful they will be included in the scheme.

Meanwhile, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that the bonus payment for frontline staff is an attempt to highlight particular challenges experienced by workers, particularly during the early days when little was known about the disease.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Ms McEntee acknowledged that GPs have come into contact with Covid patients but said that general practice did change in order to limit exposure and it was not the same experience.

She added that other cohorts of workers, including gardaí and shop workers, went out to work every day in difficult circumstances during the pandemic.

The specific bank holiday for this year is for these people and those who have lost their lives, she said.

Monaghan GP Dr Illona Duffy said all general practice staff should receive a Covid bonus.

Speaking on the same programme, she said that general practice was one of the only community services that remained open during Covid, and that staff continued to come to work at a time when there was very little PPE.

Dr Duffy acknowledged that changes were made to general practice during the pandemic and GPs, practice nurses and staff worked longer hours and stepped up on every occasion.

Staff still remain at risk, she said, because patients with Covid continue to present.

She said it was always going to be a difficult decision for the Government to make but said that a fair deal could be reached with "some work and some talk".


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