HSE staff in high-risk areas required to receive flu vaccine this year
Unions signal they will not co-operate with new proposals
The Health Service Executive has said that health workers in high-risk areas, including those dealing with cancer and transplant patients, pregnant women and infants or those in intensive care, will be required to get the flu vaccine this winter.
Those staff who cannot for medical reasons receive the vaccine or who decline should wear asurgical/procedural masks while providing care or be re-deployed elsewhere.
Trade unions have signalled that they will not co-operate with the new HSE proposals.
The row centres on what unions see as unilateral moves by the HSE to put in place a new system regarding vaccination of healthcare workers. Unions contend that there is no agreement on this new HSE policy and that it has significant industrial relations and other implications.
The HSE said on Wednesday that staff working in high-risk areas will have to receive the flu vaccine, noting that under “mandatory risk assessment proposals, healthcare worker positions will be categorised by HSE line managers as either Category A, Category A high risk or Category B”.
The vaccine would be provided free to workers in these categories. The HSE has said it is “highly recommended” for all healthcare workers to receive the flu vaccine, and that “it is required for those in Category A high-risk positions (including healthcare workers, students, contractors, and other clinical personnel) to receive the vaccine and provide evidence of having done so by October 30th”.
The HSE said in response to queries from The Irish Times that “individual consent to an assessment and, where appropriate, screening and vaccination processes must be obtained”.
Those in Category A high-risk positions that are unable to receive the influenza vaccine for medical reasons must provide evidence from their doctor or treating specialist. “These workers must wear a surgical/procedural mask while providing patient care in high risk clinical areas at all times or be redeployed to a non-high risk clinical area.”
The HSE plan identifies Category A high-risk areas as: antenatal, perinatal, and post-natal areas including labour wards and antenatal outreach programmes; neonatal intensive care and special care units; any home visiting health service provided to neonates; paediatric intensive care units; transplant and oncology wards; intensive care units; residential aged care facilities and emergency department staff.
The HSE said the upcoming flu season will significantly increase the burden on the healthcare system in addition to that presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Patients in healthcare facilities may be at an increased risk of severe influenza infection, due to their age, underlying medical conditions, or immunocompromised status.
“High rates of influenza vaccination in healthcare workers may mitigate the risk of nosocomial (originating or taking place in a hospital) transmission of influenza.
Explaining the move the HSE said, “It is likely that the introduction of a mandatory risk assessment policy for healthcare workers under existing health and safety legislation requiring vaccination for infectious diseases including influenza would improve the uptake of the influenza vaccination among frontline healthcare workers.”
Health service trade unions have objected to the HSE proposals. They maintained that the HSE had agreed to consider concerns raised about the move as part of a re-drafted document. However they said that no re-worked document was provided and that the HSE had gone ahead and issued the new policy last week.
Trade unions said in a letter to the HSE earlier this week that the move required engagement between them and the HSE and that they had “no choice but to advise our line manager members not to conduct any risk assessments associated with the flu vaccine for health care workers ”.