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HSE confident of staffing levels for vaccine centres ahead of age-based rollout

Some in government are concerned that bureaucracy will prevent short-notice additional hires that may be needed later on.

Image: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

HEALTH OFFICIALS ARE confident that staffing levels for mass vaccination centres will be sufficient despite complaints in recent weeks that the rigorous process for job applicants may be a recruitment barrier.

The health service estimates it will need between 2,500 and 5,000 vaccinators to operate seven days a week across 38 national vaccination centres. Through its recent recruitment drive, the HSE has so far hired almost 1,100 people to work in these centres, with many already in place.

HSE CEO Paul Reid this week said a further 700 are going through final clearance and another 1,700 are still going through the process but have been deemed suitable for the roles.

In total this could bring the staffing level through this recruitment campaign alone to 3,700 vaccinators, with a mix of both full-time and part-time staff. This would be in addition to the HSE staff who have already been deployed to the centres. 

The public portal is due to launch the week of 19 April, though the HSE is hoping to be able to bring that date forward so those in the 65-69 age cohort can begin to book their appointments in vaccination centres.

Head of the Vaccine Taskforce Professor Brian McCraith said this week that Ireland will have at least 250,000 doses per week to administer towards the end of April and into May.

Red tape

While the government is confident the required staffing levels to administer these doses as they come into the country can be achieved, there has been concern among some ministers that staff scheduling and bureaucracy could ‘hold up the show’.

Senior sources state they are concerned about recruitment issues reported over the last number of weeks, with doctors, consultants and other healthcare professionals reportedly having been turned down for a role, while others complained they were not given the option of working part-time on weekends or outside their normal work hours.

One source said they believe the HSE has made it “very hard” to get hired as a vaccinator and the matter has been raised with senior health figures.

“Vaccines in fridges might be the story by the end of April” if the ramp-up doesn’t go ahead as planned, said another source.

Last month, HSE officials said they were looking at whether the rigorous application process for Covid-19 vaccinators could be shortened for qualified clinicians. The recruitment campaign has called on doctors, nurses and paramedics as well as workers from other professions like pharmacists, physiotherapists, dentists and optometrists to apply.

Assurances are now being sought from health authorities that there will be enough vaccinators, particularly by May when it is expected Ireland will receive 1.7 million doses, and that it will be easy to add to the vaccination workforce at short notice if required. 

“We just need to be sure it’s not too hard to help out,” said one source.

Paul Reid said 35 of the 38 vaccination centres are ‘available’ this week, but just 17 have been used to date. Most of the staff currently operating these centres are core HSE staff.

More than 11,500 people are trained on the HSE’s system to administer vaccines. However not all of these workers will be involved when the system moves to an age-based roll-out and out into the wider population.

Some 5,500 of those trained are HSE staff, but many of these staff are needed in their current roles in order to provide other health services. Maintaining hospital staffing levels will be particularly important as the HSE recommences services that were paused due to the pandemic.

Reid said “a proportion”, but not all, of these staff will be based in vaccination centres as the service needs “experienced people who know how they run”. He said the positions they are moved from will be filled “as much as we possibly can”.

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Pharmacists’ role?

Reid also this week made reference to pharmacists, stating that the HSE has made expressions of interest with a view to using retail pharmacies as locations for vaccination. He said a technology solution to support this system is being worked on and will soon be piloted with pharmacies.

Though Reid mentioned GPs are part of the total available resource for vaccination, their role will not extend beyond the over 70s and at-risk cohorts.

Once all of those people have received their vaccines, only the GPs who have applied for jobs as vaccinators – whether that is fulltime or an offer to work part-time hours outside their own surgery work – will be involved in the wider population vaccinations at the larger centres.

Some GPs have already made the decision not to sign up to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to at-risk groups as they and their staff have been under significant pressure with the over 70s rollout. 

Monaghan GP Dr Illona Duffy told The Journal her surgery needs to be able to return to delivering more of its normal practice work. 

Dr Duffy’s practice is aiming to have all first and second doses administered to over 70s by the middle of May and, after that, she said they will not be doing any further vaccination clinics.

“It’s too difficult to try to do it and keep normal surgery going. Staff have been working their weekends and taking work home with them in the evening because the time it takes to book the clinics is phenomenal,” she said. “They just can’t get it all done during the day.”

Government sources have said they are hopeful that if a shortfall is identified in the workforce at a later stage, other workers such as GPs in the total pool of 11,5000 trained vaccinators can be easily drafted in.

About the author:

Michelle Hennessy and Christina Finn

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