Nurses' union threatens industrial action after COVID-19 vaccine 'chaos'

  • MUMN says it will work to rule unless Primary Health Care CEO addresses administrative shortcomings that saw Floriana Health Centre alone treat 220 Covid vaccine appointments yesterday,
  • Other health centres faced many no-shows because the list of patients was out of date and featured many elderly patients who had since died.

Nurses threaten industrial action after some health centres were overwhelmed with appointments yesterday
Nurses threaten industrial action after some health centres were overwhelmed with appointments yesterday

MUMN president Paul Pace has explained his union’s disappointment at seeing its members’ concerns about disorganisation in the Covid vaccination programme being dismissed by the Primary Health Care (PHC) CEO as “unfounded,” despite reports of chaos.

Pace said the union had flagged up serious administrative issues with the logistics of distributing the vaccine but had been ignored.

The primary problem faced by healthcare professionals administering the vaccine is the fact that the 3 minute gap between time slots is proving to be insufficient. “We told them this was going to happen," Pace said. "Yesterday was chaos. We were going to throw away 50 vaccines at Cospicua because the lists were outdated. We had to take them to Floriana. Floriana was so overwhelmed – through no fault of the people- that social distancing went out of the window.” Floriana Health Centre alone saw 220 Covid vaccine appointments yesterday, he said. Other health centres had many no-shows because the list of patients was out of date, with many elderly patients having since died.

The Pfizer vaccine needs 15 minutes to be prepared and this appears to have not been taken into account when allocating appointments. There are other problems too. Some health centres have no lift and elderly patients must climb stairs. The winter weather also means that the elderly patients would have to take off several layers of clothes before being able to be vaccinated. “We are talking about patients 85 years old and above…the process is much longer than a simple influenza vaccine.”

“Yesterday we had a disaster. After vaccination patients must be observed for 15minutes, but the crowded lists meant that social distancing was not observed. We had elderly patients queuing outside in the cold and rain. We almost had to throw away vaccines due to no-shows, people waiting for over 2 hours. Frustrated patients were throwing chairs in the Floriana Health Centre at a point and the police had to be called to assist.”

Pace said that the issues had been raised two days before but he was ignored and told not to be so concerned with the “nitty gritty,” by the Primary Health Care management.

Pace accused the PHC CEO of having “no intention of hearing the issues of her nurses let along addressing them.”

“PHC was just looking at numbers without going into the logistics of each and every Health Centre. Having angry clients putting pressures on the nursing when such vaccine needs to be prepared in a quiet calm atmosphere shows how detached PHC management is from the clinical aspect. Not to mention that elderly people were left in the rain, crowded together with no ways to maintain social distance shows again another failure of PHC.”

The union announced that it will be declaring an industrial dispute unless several conditions are met immediately.

The conditions include, more security guards stationed at every health centre and all vaccination lists given to Health Centre to be verified by phoning all patients to check if they are alive, willing to come and inform clients to adhere to their time slot. In addition, time intervals needed to be more spread out more, it said. Currently nurses are vaccinating 5 patients every 15 minutes.

Nurses also needed breaks, Pace said. “These factors are not taken into account.” Nurses complaints were ignored by PHC management, he said –being told that it was “your problem.” The union was later given an appointment with the PHC on the 21 January, explained Pace.

“We can only cater for so much. We have to be professional, this can’t be rushed. We know our input so don’t press us with a huge number of appointments.”
Failure to listen to the union would lead to industrial action, Pace said. “We will work to rule.”

“If such claims are ignored, MUMN will be safeguarding the health and safety of its members by other ways within the law. It is clear that Primary Health Care Management failed to address these issues due to a CEO who would not even consider consultation prior starting the vaccination  programme,”  Pace said.

MUMN said it will be meeting nurses working at the Primary Health Care to investigate this and other difficulties being faced by the nurses “since it is clear that the issues of the nurses have always been ignored by Primary Health Care Management,” it added.