Up to 200 nurses and healthcare workers who have been diagnosed with long Covid have been informed that the Special Leave with Pay scheme is to be cut off from 1 July, SIPTU has said.

The scheme was set up at the beginning of the pandemic and was introduced across the public service by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

SIPTU Health Division Organise Kevin Figgis said healthcare staff who have long Covid are unhappy at the "failure and refusal of the HSE to engage with the unions" in relation to the decision to disband the scheme.

Speaking on RTÉ's Saturday with Katie Hannon, he said: "It has been critical for the healthcare workforce. Tens of thousands of healthcare workers have been infected with Covid. Some of them have been very seriously ill and unfortunately some of them have not survived Covid.

"What we have at the moment is a cohort of healthcare workers who are suffering from medically-confirmed long Covid. They would have benefited from this policy thus far and have been particularly shocked that it has ceased."

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Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Ossian Smyth said that his department's role is to "assess requests for money from other departments and show that they make sense".

Speaking on the same programme, he said: "I absolutely recognise that long Covid payments and also payments for people who are out short-term with Covid have to be dealt with. There are long-term illness schemes existing within the HSE [Health Service Executive] already.

"What we need to do is make sure that we see if those schemes are adequate to cover what is there. Nobody will be left without a payment.

"With the Covid payments that came out, a lot of times there were emergency decisions made about payments that would be made for Covid and a lot of those had a sunset clause.

"They were put for a limited period of time so that they could be reassessed.

"Minister [for Health Stephen] Donnelly said that there would be no cliff edge on the payments and I trust him on that."

Meanwhile, an immunologist has said Ireland is experiencing a rise in Covid-19 cases, but restricted PCR testing makes it difficult to establish an exact figure.

Professor of Immunology at Dublin City University Christine Loscher estimated that there are around 8,000 to 10,000 cases of Covid-19 here a day.

Speaking on RTÉ's The Business, she said: "We're not really going to know how many cases we have, because we have quite restricted PCR testing to people over the age of 55 at the moment.

"We're doing about 5,000 [PCR tests] a day, which is nowhere near what we were doing at the height of the pandemic."

This morning, there were 537 people in hospitals around the country with Covid-19, an increase of 22 on the same time yesterday.

Of these, 27 people are in intensive care units with the virus, down one on yesterday.

Prof Loscher said: "Everybody seems to know somebody who has Covid, which was the position we were in about four months ago.

"It's certainly much higher in the last few weeks than it has been. We're certainly experiencing an uptick in cases like we've seen in other European countries."