The state could face a “tsunami” of claims from emergency and hospital workers who contracted the coronavirus during the pandemic, legal experts have warned.
This follows revelations from the State Claims Agency (SCA) that it is already processing 90 post-pandemic claims.
A judicial source said Extra.ie this week that the figures could represent “the tip of a very deep iceberg”. The source said: ‘Claims like this can feel a bit like bankruptcy: the numbers start slow but ramp up quickly.’
“There is a certain importance attached to the fact that the SCA places this group in a single cohort. This means that they watch it very carefully. They seem to fear that a significant number of cases are expected.
The figures emerged after Social Democrat co-leader Catherine Murphy asked the finance minister how many claims have been filed against the state in relation to COVID.
Minister Paschal Donohoe revealed that the SCA had received 90 complaints and said they were from “service users, staff and members of the public across delegated state authorities”.
Ms Murphy cautioned against the state taking an adversarial litigation approach to claims.
“People have a legitimate right to make complaints. Given that this was a pandemic, these are technically quite complex and difficult claims. It’s not the traditional thing that happens in a hospital.
She also suggested that a sympathetic response from the state apparatus could lead to a reduction in claims.
Ms Murphy said: “A lot of times in situations like this people feel very aggrieved. People want recognition and respect for their experiences. Engaging with them can have significant results.
“These cases require careful handling and an empathetic response from the state rather than the usual resort to aggressive legal strategy. It won’t work here.
Significantly, the state has already acknowledged that frontline workers have put themselves at risk during the pandemic.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, responding to questions from the Dáil, said: ‘The Government and I recognize that the staff of the Public Health Service have gone beyond the call of duty, providing care to patients in frontline settings clinically exposed to COVID, treating COVID-positive patients throughout the most challenging phases of the pandemic.
“Many of these frontline public health workers have contracted COVID and continue to suffer from long COVID and remain unable to get to the workplace.
“The State has created a scheme, specific to the public health service, to provide paid leave for public health service employees unfit for work post-Covid infection.”
‘ Those who have worked during the pandemic include:
- Nurses and doctors;
- Staff of long-term care facilities for people with disabilities;
- Agency staff working in HSE;
- Health care support assistants (also known as home help/home care/home support) under contract with the HSE;
- Members of the Defense Forces;