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Unvaccinated ambulance service staff redeployed away from frontline duties

At least six members in the west were moved from frontline duties in the last week.

Image: Shutterstock/Agnieszka Pas

A NUMBER OF National Ambulance Service staff who were unvaccinated against Covid-19 have been stood down from frontline duties in recent weeks. 

At least six paramedics in the west of the country were informed in recent days that they were to be “redeployed” as part of a HSE policy regarding unvaccinated health workers, The Journal has learned.  

This means they were being moved from ambulance duty to other tasks within the HSE which would not see them come into direct contact with patients.

The paramedics being redeployed will only work Monday to Friday and not receive any premium pay during their period away from frontline duties, several NAS sources said.

One person has since received a first dose vaccination and has returned to work, the sources said. 

For the last year, since the start of the national vaccination programme, there has been an ongoing debate about how much contact unvaccinated healthcare workers should have with patients. 

This policy regarding unvaccinated health workers being redeployed was only brought in by the HSE in November of this year. According to the sources within the NAS, unvaccinated members of the service have been informed of their redeployment over the last two weeks.  

The staff had been working in the ambulance service since the start of the pandemic without any issues, sources said. 

The HSE confirmed to The Journal that a small number of ambulance staff had refused the Covid-19 jab, though it could not confirm the exact number of staff as this information is not held on a central database.

“The NAS has identified that 98.3% of all staff are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. There has been a significant demand to receive the Covid-19 vaccine to date and all indications are that there is a very high take up of vaccination by healthcare staff, which is welcome,” a spokesperson for the HSE said.

She added: “There is a HSE policy in place to address situations where staff in critical roles are unvaccinated, which is managed at a local healthcare site level, and we know this is a relatively small number in the context of the total healthcare workforce. 

“Participation in vaccination programmes in Ireland is not mandatory. Should a person change their mind, vaccination can be made available to them.

“We continue to offer vaccines to healthcare staff who have not been vaccinated and have processes in place to ensure this option is available.” 

The HSE’s own policy around the Covid vaccine is clear: it is not mandatory for the staff to have it, but those who decline it and who work in high-risk areas will be removed from their work and placed in an area which is safer for them and patients. 

The redeployment of these staff is temporary, according to the full HSE document regarding vaccination of its staff. It can be read in full here

Redeployment of unvaccinated staff members only occurs once that staff member’s line manager has carried out a risk assessment on the member of staff and deemed them to be at a high-risk of contracting the disease.

It comes at a time when the NAS is under unprecedented pressure due to the pandemic.

The service was placed at Level 3 under its Capacity Action Programme last week, meaning that there was not enough ambulances and personnel to cover demand.

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This is due to a mixture of staff being off either sick with Covid or as close contacts. It is also down to a large increase in demand for ambulance callouts, according to the HSE.

Sources within the NAS said many staff operating out of the western region were angered by the decision to remove six of their colleagues when the service was under pressure. 

A letter sent to staff in November of last year detailed that unvaccinated paramedics could be removed from high-risk situations, and that their pay might also be affected by their choice not to be vaccinated. 

The letter reads: “Where a line manager establishes that a staff member is unvaccinated, then the line manager should arrange for a risk assessment to be undertaken to determine the need for redeployment to a low risk role within the HSE. 

“Redeployment has potential financial implications for any staff member whom is not required to undertake shift or weekend work in an alternative low risk role.

“Equally, the redeployment of any staff member has implications for the delivery of services to patients and other staff members who are working to cover workforce gaps and in this context, the potential impact on patients arising from service capacity deficits should also form part of any risk assessment.” 

Responding to press queries earlier this week a HSE spokesperson said that “absenteeism” is one of the driving factors adding to pressure being put on the system.

- Contains reporting by Ian Curran

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