A Fermanagh based health care professional who has requested anonymity has written the following plea to the school community here.

In this article, the health worker stresses that "time is running out" and argues that our schools must now help to look after the children of health and social care workers.

I have worked in health and social care for a very long time and have never experienced contingency planning like this before. This planning is not to deal with a probability, it is a focused attempt to be prepared for the inevitable and we are working against the clock. We are blessed to have some time, however the reality is we are running out of time and the reality is no human is in a position to be prepared for every eventuality.

I trust and pray with the strong leadership within the Trust/organisation and the evident sense of collective team working that the plans we're putting in place will not only contribute to saving many lives in the community but also provide support for the whole health and social care workforce that are vital to the front line in the fight against Covid-19.

One area which we are very sure of is the need to retain as many staff as possible BEFORE we lose them due to self-isolation and/or infection of Covid-19.

This is where our fellow public servants, i.e teachers and support staff to look after the children of health and social care workers, can step in. Every health and social care worker both in the public and independent sector are vital. We cannot wait on consultations - this is not normal times - the days before the surge are precious to all to ensure plans are embedded as best they can to enable us to tackle the surge ahead. We need the schools open now, without delay.

The reality is a high percentage of the workforce from teams such as Social Work, District Nursing, Domiciliary Care Workers, Nursing/Residential homes could be taken from the front line without illness. This is not even considering the battlefield within the acute setting which I dread to consider the consequences for the general public - that includes every person/family.

I totally understand this is new territory for schools. I understand the need to adhere to social distancing. I understand the need for risk assessments. I understand the risks associated with infection for staff/children and I understand this risk may be raised given that some of these parents will be in contact with infected people let it be any grade providing treatment/care to a patient in hospital or a community worker of any grade providing treatment/care in the community.

However, I urge the leadership of our schools to realise they as public servants are needed in this fight against Covid-19 and they need to act quickly. Do not waste time looking for clarity on key workers. All health and social care workers are key workers. The need for schools to remain open for key worker children was made known before the confirmation came from government that they were to close.

Surely leadership considered this in the days they were lobbying for the schools to close? We don't need delays associated with definitions on other occupations such as shops, delivery drivers etc. We do not have the time. Common sense is needed. Schools are an integral part of our community. My understanding is Jones Memorial is open on Monday? How have they managed this? Could other schools quickly learn from them or others that are open?

Most schools have many classrooms and normally have at least one member of staff for each class. How long should it take to carry out a risk assessment? I urge schools not to wait on direction from government - they depend on the leadership within the schools to come up with the solutions. I urge them not to undermine their abilities to tackle this without taking the usual delays associated with consultations and the governance issues associated with normal day to day education (same with any public service).

Education is full of professionals and non-professionals that are well equipped to provide a childcare service. Educational governance is well equipped to adapt - I urge them to take a step of courage just like all health and social care workers are taking into the unknown in the management of a pandemic never experienced before in our lifetime.

This should not be about who is at risk. It is about sharing the risk and working as a wider team across the board for the benefit for each and every citizen of this county. Yes, health and social care workers will get infected, yes, children will get infected, yes education workers will get infected. Is it a good enough reason to disable vital key workers from the frontline? We are all public servants and whether it be working directly with the patients or enabling others to do so each of our roles are of significant importance.

This will benefit each and every person regardless of colour, creed or status.
This may sound critical but is an attempt to give insight into the reality of the situation on a very small scale of planning for the surge within the bigger picture. However without our role, hospital discharges would/will not happen and more people would/will be admitted to hospital and nursing/residential homes and domiciliary care could/will be on its knees.

I honestly think the leadership needs encouragement to act and to act quickly. I would hope this service would not be abused to a high level. They may not get it perfect but there is learning in this for everyone and they need to learn as they go along because unfortunately we haven't the time to get it perfect.

Life may never be the same for any of us but I firmly believe education will be in a position to reflect and learn, but more importantly look back and say we made a big difference in the fight against Covid-19 by providing childcare that enabled health and social care workers get to work.