Pharmacists urged not to take part in mass vaccinations in dispute over €70 hourly fee

Row centres on  different rates of pay that the Irish Pharmaceutical Union  has agreed with the HSE and the salaries that are being offered for the same job in a recruitment drive
Pharmacists urged not to take part in mass vaccinations in dispute over €70 hourly fee

The fees agreed between the IPU and the HSE are about three times higher than the rate on offer in the recruitment drive. Picture: Larry Cummins

Pharmacists have been advised by their representative body not to take part in the HSE’s vaccination programme in a row over fees.

The row centres on the different rates of pay that the Irish Pharmaceutical Union (IPU) has agreed with the HSE and the salaries that are being offered for the same job in a recruitment drive. 

The fees agreed between the IPU and the HSE are about three times higher than the rate on offer in the recruitment drive.

A ministerial regulation signed earlier this year makes provision for pharmacists to be paid €70 per hour for working as vaccinators in the mass vaccination centres. 

The annual equivalent salary at this rate would be nearly €142,000. 

However, in the last week, the recruitment company CPL has been advertising positions on behalf of the HSE for the same work on a salary scale running from €35,000 to €50,000. 

The recruitment drive is targeting doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, physiotherapists, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics.

The advertisement has prompted the IPU to notify its members that they may be recruited to do vaccination work and then find themselves with a contract worth around a third of what has been agreed directly on their behalf.

Darragh O’Loughlin, general secretary of the IPU, told the Irish Examiner that the union became aware that the HSE and its recruitment agency CPL had advertised for positions as vaccinators in the vaccination centres “on a salary which is considerably less than the rate that was negotiated and agreed between the HSE and the IPU and is set down in legislation”. 

The IPU raised the issue with the HSE but has not yet received a response about the matter.

“Until we get firm assurances that, regardless who is the employer, HSE or agency, the hourly amount payable to a pharmacist for vaccination against Covid 19 services provided in a HSE-run mass vaccination clinic will be at an agreed statutory rate, we are advising that pharmacists should not apply for these positions,” he said.

The issue of pay differentials applies also to GPs. Under the same statutory instrument setting out scales for pharmacists, GPs are entitled to €120 an hour for their services.

Questions submitted to the Irish Medical Organisation, which negotiated the contract on behalf of GPs, had not received a response by last night. 

It is unclear whether or not the IMO was aware of the recruitment of vaccinators at the much lower pay rates.

The statutory instrument setting out the pay scales for general practitioners and pharmacists was drawn up in response to the expected demand for trained personnel to administer vaccines in the mass centres over the coming months. 

The instrument was signed off by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and the Minister for Public Enterprise Michael McGrath.

Questions about the HSE’s recruitment policies and what engagement it had with the IPU did not receive any reply by last night despite assurances that a reply was being processed.

If the HSE is bound by the statutory instrument rate and GPs and pharmacists are paid accordingly, they will be working side by side with other vaccinators, doing the same work for a multiple of the equivalent salary paid to those retained through the current recruitment drive.

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