‘Chocolates for nurses’ controversy dismissed by HSE boss

Tony O’Brien defends official who highlighted nurses’ low uptake of vaccinations

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation called on HSE assistant national director for public health Dr Kevin Kelleher to respect nurses’ decisions not to avail of vaccines.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation called on HSE assistant national director for public health Dr Kevin Kelleher to respect nurses’ decisions not to avail of vaccines.

 

The head of the health service has dismissed the controversy over giving nurses chocolate to boost immunisation levels as “much ado about nothing”.

HSE director general Tony O’Brien also defended a senior official after he was criticised for telling an Oireachtas committee that chocolates and iPad draws work well as incentives to encourage more nurses to get the flu vaccine.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation branded the comments “patronising and insulting” and called on the official, HSE assistant national director for public health Dr Kevin Kelleher, to respect nurses’ decisions not to avail of the vaccine.

Mr O’Brien said Dr Kelleher was relating examples of initiatives that have worked “in reality”. “Is it now a crime to cite evidence,” he asked on Twitter.

These initiatives have contributed to increased uptake of vaccines by healthcare professionals, Mr O’Brien tweeted.

“Much ado about nothing. Such ideas generated by staff themselves, including nurses, and have been shown to work. Vaccine rates are a real issue.”

At the Oireachtas health committee on Thursday, Dr Kelleher said the uptake of vaccinations among healthcare workers increased during the last flu season from 22 to 31 per cent.

Dr Kelleher noted a particular issue around nurses who refuse to avail of influenza vaccinations, which are encouraged to stop the spread of infection in hospitals.

“Our problem has primarily been around nurses, around their uptake of the vaccine, and we’ve been working very hard to try and understand that,” he told TDs and Senators.

“You need to have leadership in the institutions concerned and predominantly leadership from the nursing profession – it makes a big difference. And incentives work as well.”

He added: “Be they incentives for the institution or incentives for the individuals, ranging from giving them chocolates . . . Actually in the medical literature there is some very good evidence for that . . . Other things like draws for iPads work very well in improving the rate of uptake.”

He added that the level of uptake in Ireland remains very low and pointed out that the State lags far behind the UK, as well as the US, where immunisation for healthcare workers is mandatory in some states.