'Delayed and sporadic' rollout of Covid-19 vaccine in mental health facilities criticised

The Psychiatric Nurses Association said frontline workers and service users in the area are being 'left behind' in the vaccine rollout.
'Delayed and sporadic' rollout of Covid-19 vaccine in mental health facilities criticised

There is growing concern among staff about the sporadic rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine at mental health facilities, according to the Psychiatric Nurses Association. File Picture.

Psychiatric nurses have expressed serious concern at the "delayed and sporadic" rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine throughout the mental health and intellectual disability services.

The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) said frontline workers and service users in these areas were among the most vulnerable to infection in the health services, yet were feeling "left behind" in the rollout of the vaccine.

The intervention of the PNA follows calls this week from the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland (CPI) for patients and staff in psychiatric units to be treated equally with patients and staff in medical units and to be “immediately” included in the vaccinations.

A statement issued today by the PNA expressed serious concerns at the delayed and sporadic roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine throughout the mental health and intellectual disability (ID) services.

Mr Peter Hughes, PNA General Secretary, said there was growing concern among both staff and service users that they were not being sufficiently prioritised for vaccination and were not being communicated properly with on the scheduling of the vaccine delivery.

He said frontline mental health and intellectual disability staff and service users were among the most vulnerable to infection in the health services, yet they were not being prioritised and many of them were now feeling left behind in the current vaccination roll-out.

“We are being informed of very sporadic first dose vaccination in the mental health services with very little rollout in intellectual disability services and community mental health services in many parts of the country,” he said.

“It is particularly worrying that it will be up to a further three weeks before first dose vaccination will be given to very many of our members and service users throughout mental health and ID services.

“We must remember that we have a large vulnerable client base in these services, many with underlying health conditions, and it is disappointing that this is not being sufficiently recognised in the prioritising of the vaccine roll-out.” 

It is clear to our members, and a cause of growing frustration in various parts of the country, that the schedule for vaccination of frontline staff is not being sufficiently adhered to.

“There now needs to be more rigorous management of the vaccine at local level and a renewed commitment from the HSE to prioritise staff and services users for vaccination throughout the mental health and ID services.” 

Earlier this week, the CPI wrote to HSE bosses and the health minister advocating equal access to the vaccine for patients with mental illness as for other patients in similar acute or long-term residential units.

It followed concerns from the Mental Health Commission at the rise in Covid-19 cases in mental health units and the current exclusion of the majority of them from the vaccination schedule.

In response to the concerns raised by the CPI earlier this week, the HSE issued a statement to the Irish Examiner saying it was rolling out the vaccine programme in line with the provisional vaccine allocation groups the Government had published last December.

“This is critical given the limited supply of vaccine," it said. 

"The HSE has developed a set of principles for the sequencing of Covid–19 vaccinations to frontline healthcare workers which supports the Government allocation groups.”

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