Hospitals unable to say how many of their healthcare workers remain unvaccinated

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Hospital groups around the country are unable to provide data on how many healthcare workers are not vaccinated against Covid-19.

HSE guidelines state unvaccinated frontline healthcare workers and others who work in high-risk areas should be temporarily redeployed to more low-risk roles.

They are required to confirm their vaccination status to their line manager when requested to do so. When contacted by the Irish Independent this week, the eight hospital groups representing individual hospitals across the country said they did not capture data relating to staff who declined the Covid-19 vaccine.

Just one voluntary hospital, Tallaght University Hospital in Dublin, revealed that 43 patient-facing staff who are unvaccinated have been temporarily redeployed to another role.

A further 23 healthcare workers in non-patient facing roles had not had the vaccine, according to a spokesperson.

It comes as health officials and politicians are urging the public to avail of a Covid-19 vaccine in the wake of escalating case numbers.

Unvaccinated people are placing a “disproportionate burden” on the health service, according to Minister for Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, while deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said those who were not vaccinated were at high risk of contracting this virus and becoming severely unwell.

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Hospital outbreaks rose from seven to 10 clusters in the week to last Saturday, according to the latest figures. It is not clear what role unvaccinated health workers might be playing in healthcare-related outbreaks.

This week, a spokesperson for Tallaght Hospital told the Irish Independent “43 staff have been temporarily reassigned to areas with lower exposure risk for managing patient exposure to the virus”.

Last month it emerged 23 frontline healthcare workers were redeployed at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin due to being unvaccinated.

 The Dublin Midlands Group, which includes Naas General Hospital and the Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise, said it did not have data relating to unvaccinated staff.

“This is managed locally via risk assessment in line with national guidance,” said a spokesperson. The UL Hospitals Group, which includes University Hospital Limerick and Ennis Hospital among others, said it “does not currently hold centralised data on the number of healthcare workers who are not vaccinated in our hospitals, either at group or individual site level”.

The spokesperson added: “UL Hospitals Group has been carrying out risk assessments on staff working in the high-risk clinical areas in our hospital sites, and redeploying staff out of those areas if required for the safety of all patients and staff.”

Figures were not provided by the Saolta Group, which includes University Hospital Galway and Letterkenny Hospital. A spokesperson said: “A healthcare worker’s vaccination status is matter between the line manager and the individual staff member when the risk assessment is being conducted, so data relating to unvaccinated staff is not held centrally.” The Ireland East Hospital Group said it did not currently capture data relating to unvaccinated staff.

A spokesperson for the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital said: “Such statistics are not available to us.” The South/South West Hospital Group also said it did not have data on the numbers of staff within the group who were unvaccinated.

The RSCI Hospital Group did not provide figures.

A spokesperson for St James’s Hospital in Dublin said: “Risk assessment of Category A healthcare workers is ongoing so unfortunately the figures are not available yet.”

As of Tuesday, healthcare workers accounted for 1,417 (3.8pc) of the 37,036 Covid-19 cases notified to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

St Vincent’s University Hospital is in the process of identifying any unvaccinated healthcare workers in line with the HSE’s risk assessment based approach. A spokesperson said: “Given we have not yet concluded the risk assessment process, it is not possible to indicate the actual number of staff that are unvaccinated.” 

Under HSE rules, managers are allowed to ask staff whether they are vaccinated. This follows a decision by the Data Protection Commissioner, who said vaccination may be seen as a necessary safety precaution in particular circumstances, such as frontline health services.

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