Health workers are to be bribed with chocolate and spot prizes to be vaccinated against the flu after records showed a dismal uptake of the vaccine.
Just one in four employees in hospitals, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been vaccinated against flu despite a three-year awareness campaign by the HSE to try to boost numbers.
Now health employers trying to encourage staff to have the free vaccine are being advised to “make it attractive”.
Among the measures suggested are incentives and rewards, such as “raffles, spot prizes, chocolates”. They are also being told to consider running competitions between departments and teams in the workplace with the uptake for each group being published for all to see.
Healthcare workers are specifically targetted, not only out of concern for their own health and the problem of absenteeism, but because they risk spreading the virus to their ill and frail patients.
Information material prepared for them warns that they could be passing on the virus without knowing as up to 50% of people who are infected show no symptoms.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has warned that a high uptake of the vaccine among health care workers is “vital” for infection control and said health care workers must be made see that vaccination “is integral to duty of care” for their patients.
It recommended last year that the HSE consider making mandatory vaccination a condition of employment, or at least introducing ‘declination’ forms which would require workers to confirm they understood the risks of not being vaccinated and to explain their reasons for declining it.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar added his voice to the concerns last week when he also said healthcare workers should be made divulge to patients whether or not they had been vaccinated.
His comments came amid warning from the HSE that flu-like illness rates had quadrupled since the start of the year, adding to the pressure on hospital emergency departments.
At least five hospitals had to activate escalation policies last week to prevent overcrowding in ED getting out of hand, resulting in the cancellation of non-emergency surgeries.
The HSE said recently it would not introduce mandatory vaccination but was considering declination forms. But in information materials currently circulating, the advice to health employers trying to boost uptake of the vaccination is to make it attractive through a range of incentives and by making it easy for staff to avail of it.
Along with the incentives and rewards, employers are advised to offer immunisation on a continuous basis, day or night, “during any contact” with workers not yet vaccinated.
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