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Hundreds of hospital staff, including healthcare workers, not vaccinated against Covid-19

Those unvaccinated include nurses, healthcare assistants and doctors.

Image: Shutterstock/Alexxndr

TWO HOSPITAL GROUPS have confirmed that almost 300 of their employees had not been vaccinated against Covid-19 almost a year into the State’s vaccination programme.

Figures provided to The Journal by Saolta University Health Care Group and UL Hospitals group show that 294 workers in 11 hospitals across the west of Ireland were considered ‘at risk’ to patients because of their Covid-19 vaccine status last November.

Those unvaccinated included healthcare workers who dealt with members of the public, such as nurses, healthcare assistants, therapists and a non-consultant hospital doctor.

Mandatory vaccination is not currently Government policy and the HSE says that vaccination is based on the consent of its staff members to accept vaccination.

However, the health service carries out risk-assessments of those who have not been vaccinated in order to protect staff and patients or other service users, and temporarily reassigns unvaccinated workers to areas “with lower exposure risk” if necessary.

Redeployment of unvaccinated staff members only occurs once that staff member’s line manager has deemed the worker to be at a high-risk of contracting the disease and passing it on to another worker or a member of the public.

Saolta, which manages seven acute hospitals in Donegal, Galway, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo, confirmed that 253 staff had been assessed in line with the HSE’s protocol because they had not been vaccinated by mid-November.

A spokesperson for the hospital group said that it was welcome that there had been “a very high take-up of vaccination by healthcare staff” to date and that just 2% of workers were not vaccinated when the risk-assessment of all staff was carried out.

“Participation in vaccination programmes in Ireland is not mandatory,” a statement said.

“Should a person change their mind, vaccination can be made available to them. We continue to vaccinate new healthcare staff and have processes in place to ensure new healthcare workers are vaccinated.”

UL Hospitals group, which manages six hospitals in Limerick, Tipperary and Clare, confirmed that 41 staff members at those facilities had not been vaccinated by the end of November.

More than a quarter of those were subsequently redeployed to non-patient facing areas to protect members of the public and service users.

They included nursing, administrative and catering staff as well as healthcare assistants, dietitians, speech and language therapists, porters and a non-consultant doctor.

A spokesperson for the group said that while all staff had been asked to confirm their vaccination status, it was not compulsory for them to do so.

“A staff member’s vaccination status is their personal information,” a statement said.

“Staff have a right to privacy which needs to be respected in line with GDPR legislation of 2018.”

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

It was reported earlier this week that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) would discuss mandatory vaccinations in Ireland, though the idea was subsequently dismissed by politicians including Taoiseach Micheál Martin.  

Speaking at a media briefing yesterday, HSE CEO Paul Reid also said he did not believe that mandatory vaccinations should be introduced.

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“In relation to staff, I’ve said openly from the start of [the pandemic] that I would expect all healthcare staff to take up the Covid vaccine,” he said.

“Thankfully, that’s been the experience for the vast majority of staff. There are certain exceptional cases for medical reasons, which can happen not just for healthcare staff but for others too.”

It was reported last week that at least six paramedics, also working in the west of the country, were informed that they were to be “redeployed” away from frontline duties because they had not received a vaccine.

The Sunday Times also reported in September last year that 186 workers at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin had not been vaccinated against Covid-19.

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