12 Apr 2021

'Unregulated' Covid-19 vaccinators a stop-gap for underinvestment in nurses - union

7:36 pm on 12 April 2021

The largest nurses union has raised concerns about non-clinical staff giving Covid-19 vaccinations, saying it stems from a long-standing failure by the Ministry of Health to recruit more Māori nurses.

Kerri Nuku, kaiwhakahaere for the Nurses Organisation

New Zealand Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku is concerned non-clinical community health workers don't have adequate medical training or the backing of a professional body to be vaccinators. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Community health workers at Māori health providers will be trained to give the jab because there are not enough nurses and doctors.

It has been lauded by Māori health providers who rely heavily on the non-clinical workforce, but it doesn't have the support of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.

Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said it was putting those workers in a precarious position.

"We only need this unregulated workforce to have knowledge of the safety and the effect, and have clinical interpersonal skills ... I'm not sure that we have a workforce - non-regulated - that is able to do that, and we're concerned about the protection of this non-regulated workforce."

Her concern was that these workers did not have adequate medical training, even if they were well-versed in how to give the vaccination - or the backing of a professional body.

Nuku said kaiāwhina were being used as a stop-gap for years of underinvestment in Māori health providers.

"We've already said that there's up to a 25 percent pay gap between regulated nurses that work within DHBs and their colleagues that work within Māori and iwi providers.

"Creating this second level of unregulated vaccinators will create yet a further inequity gap in terms of payment support and clinical practice."

GP and Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā member Rawiri Jansen agreed the Ministry of Health needed to invest more in training and employing Māori nurses.

However, he said non-clinical Māori staff giving vaccinations would be protected.

"I'm really confident that the training programme and the settings that we will use non-regulated trained workers [in] will be safe for patients and it's safe for those workers.

"They will be working in vaccination centres where there are registered nurses who have been trained in the use of adrenaline and so on, they will be working under the direction of other health professionals".

A Gisborne-based provider, Tūranga Health, was also confident clinical staff working alongside kaiāwhina would provide the necessary expertise and protection.

Chief executive Reweti Ropiha said kaiāwhina added value to providers, and the vaccine rollout.

"They bring ... skillsets that are developed over time, lifeskills, their connections, and not necessarily can you go and buy those off a shelf.

"So we're looking to bring those skillsets right to the forefront of the largest pandemic vaccination programme in New Zealand's history."

The Ministry of Health said in a 2016 report it needed to recruit 10,000 nurses by 2030 to keep up with the population.

"We're nowhere near that number so this seems to be quite a rushed opportunity to fix the gap but this is no way a sustainable, long-term option," Nuku said.

The Ministry of Health has been approached for comment.

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