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Ahead of Q2 ramp-up, HSE looks at shortening application process for vaccinators

Some 4,000 people have applied for the roles but a large proportion are offering to work part-time only.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

HSE OFFICIALS HAVE said they are looking at whether the rigorous application process for Covid-19 vaccinators can be shortened for qualified clinicians, as the health service prepares to significantly scale up its vaccine programme in the next three months.

The majority of vaccines so far have been administered in hospitals, residential care centres and in GP surgeries. As we move through April, and particularly in May and June, all 38 locations identified as mass vaccination centres are expected to come online.

Around 4,000 people have applied to become part of the dedicated vaccination staff at these centres. These workers will supplement the already trained vaccinators such as hospital staff, GPs and paramedics who have been administering the jabs to date. 

While there has been significant interest in the roles, a large cohort of applicants are offering to work only part-time. There have also been some complaints about the level of detail required and the length of time the application process takes. The recruiter, CPL Healthcare, has extended the deadline three times, with a current closing date for applications of 7 April.

This week HSE CEO Paul Reid said the organisation, as an employer, needs “a certain baseline of information”, but he said he had asked HSE human resources and CPL to look at whether the process could be shortened “for those who they know are qualified”. 

The recruitment campaign calls on doctors, nurses and paramedics as well as workers from other professions like pharmacists, physiotherapists, dentists and optometrists.

Speaking to The Journal Sinn Féin TD and the party’s health spokesperson David Cullinane said the government needs to outline all of the resources it needs and those it currently has in place as we move into the critical second quarter of this year.

“In terms of vaccinators, we need all hands to the pump, we need to look at anybody who can do it,” he said. “This next phase in the second quarter is so important, we’ll have the 38 mass vaccination centres open and we need to make sure we have staff and capacity when those bigger deliveries of vaccines start to arrive.

“One issue I’m hearing from people who work in hospitals is that we have 2,000 vaccinators who do peer vaccines – so vaccinating other staff – and that’s a combination of nurses and other specialists. They are now being asked to rollout the vaccines in centres too.

Now is that being done because we don’t have the required number of community vaccinators directly hired? If that’s the case, we are taking frontline staff that are needed in our hospitals out of those settings over a number of months at a crucial time in the pandemic. Maybe they always planned to have those people involved, but the more we utilise people like pharmacists, dentists, the defence forces and retired staff, the better.

Part-time staff

Fintan Hourihan, CEO of the Irish Dental Association (IDA), said he has been told that 116 dentists so far have expressed interest and 101 have been deemed eligible, with others currently under review.

He told The Journal that some members have commented about having to “jump through hoops”, but said anyone who has ever worked with the HSE knows the processes have always been rigorous.

“It doesn’t strike me as being unusual and I mean you couldn’t really argue with it, they need to check things like garda vetting, verifying you are a registered dentist or doctor or nurse and so on,” he said. “It just takes time. This may be alien to some dentists who are in private practice who are applying and who may not have gone through the same levels of protocols and procedures.”

He said he had been told in a meeting with a HSE during the week that a large proportion of the 4,000 people who have applied for these roles want to work part-time.

“I had asked them about whether retired dentists and those working in private practice may be able to work part time and they said it is an option, but clearly they need to have a core crew just for continuity purposes,” he said.

 The HSE’s Chief Operations Officer Dr Anne O’Connor acknowledged that a significant number of those applying are offering to work only part-time. 

“Our key challenge is we do need people who will work more hours,” she said “There are many people out there – just to acknowledge the interest that people have – who want to support the vaccination programme .

“Unfortunately from a service delivery perspective we can’t run it on people who only want to do a small number of hours in a week. So we are looking at how we balance full-time, experienced people with people who are coming in for small numbers of hours.

“We are also looking in the context of our whole organisation and how we can redeploy existing staff to vaccination and all of that.”

In relation to the application process for vaccinators, she said it takes one hour for someone who is qualified and who “has their paperwork” to complete the process. 

“The reality is we need them to go through that process because we have to know that they’re fit to do vaccinating,” she said.

She said the health service is looking at “trying to simplify” the process now, while also ensuring a safe service is delivered. 

Salary complaints

This week the Irish Pharmacy Union raised issues with the salary scale for these positions, stating that it is 

The Irish Pharmacy Union “considerably less than the rate that was negotiated and agreed between the Department of Health, HSE and IPU”.

“We have raised this with the HSE and also with the Minister for Health seeking assurances that, regardless who is the employer, HSE or agency, the hourly amount payable to a pharmacist for vaccination against Covid-19 services provided in a HSE-run mass-vaccination clinic will be at the agreed rate,” it said in a statement. “The issue still has not been resolved.”

The salary scale for these roles ranges from €35,000 to €50,500, based on the candidate’s experience level.

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In a recent response to a parliamentary question from Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond, the HSE said all of those recruited will be  appointed into the vaccinator role, regardless of their professional discipline.

The health service said the role is “very specific to the duties of administering vaccinations” and does not include the wider duties and responsibilities typically associated with the individual professional listed. 

Mass vaccination centres

So far 13 of the 38 mass vaccination centres are open and some 11,000 people have been trained as vaccinators, including staff at acute hospitals and GPs. 

Officials have said between 2,500 and 5,000 vaccintors will be needed to staff these centres, made up of current staff and those hired as part of the recruitment drive.

Up to last weekend 1,250 people had been trained and offered contracts as part of this campaign, with 500 contracts signed so far. 

In a statement to The Journal, the HSE said it will require “as many qualified vaccinators as possible in a mix of full and part-time roles, to maintain the Covid-19 vaccination effort over a number of months”.

“The vaccination process is limited only by supply and we will continue to rollout the vaccine programme as fast as supply allows.”

The HSE said full-time staff will be required to work 39 hours a week, but part-time wor is also available. 

“During the recruitment process all candidates are asked to outline their availability- the recruiters aim to match candidates’ availability with vaccination centres’ requirements,” it said.

“The application was designed with the aim of recruiting quickly by avoiding future delays in the appointments stage of the recruitment process.

Fast, safe recruitment supports the health services. It has been the experience of the recruiter that if they have to go back to candidates repeatedly to get the necessary documentation it slows down the entire recruitment process and has a negative impact on health services, as it takes longer to recruit staff into key roles.”

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