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Health worker sacked for refusing to comply with board policy

First published in Waikato Times by Florence Kerr

One staff member has been fired and a “number” of others suspended for not complying with the Waikato District Health Board’s flu vaccination policy.

The board would not elaborate on the number of staff suspended or what departments they work in at Waikato Hospital in Hamilton.

Board chief executive Dr Nigel Murray is unapologetic about the board’s stance and said the policy, which encourages staff to get vaccinated for the influenza virus, was brought in to protect patients, staff and the public from being infected

Those who don’t comply are made to wear medical masks.

The policy came into effect on May 18, this year.

The move, however, has been labelled “unhealthy” by the head of a medical professional body.

Murray said the fired staff member “refused” to comply with the vaccination policy.

“As a consequence, unfortunately, this person’s employment was terminated,” he said.

“The DHB will not comment on individual cases but did follow the HR progressive performance processes.”

The staff members that were suspended have now returned to work. At present there are no suspensions in place.

All staff who elect not to be vaccinated and not wear a mask to protect patients while in clinical practice are given the opportunity to discuss their individual concerns with infection control specialists and their professional leads.

If following further discussion a resolution is not reached then employment will be terminated.

Murray said the policy is the best form of protection for vulnerable members of the community who are dealt with by staff.

“As healthcare professionals, we have an obligation to our patients and their safety. Influenza-associated deaths account for approximately 400 New Zealanders each year, according to a study published by the University of Otago.”

However, Ian Powell, the executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, a union for doctors, said there was a lack of evidence to “justify” the board’s approach.

“We are very uneasy about this punitive approach that the Waikato DHB is taking. It’s out of kilter with most other DHBs.”

Powell said a national agreement between health boards’ across New Zealand and health unions was intended to prevent the naming and shaming of staff by making them wear a mask if they weren’t vaccinated.

“We certainly support encouraging vaccinations and all DHBs are doing that, but Waikato seems to be displaying a militaristic [approach] that’s unhealthy.”

But Murray said the approach was working with 75 per cent of staff receiving the free flu vaccination; up from 53 per cent last year.

“Protecting our patients from getting the flu whilst in our care is not bullying … This is a widely consulted, well considered scientifically informed policy that protects both patients and staff while in the services of the DHB,” Murray said.

“Because of this policy our wards and services are much safer.”

Murray said the board will complete a post-flu season evaluation of the new policy and will seek staff and union feedback to consider any improvements on the policy moving forward.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation could not be reached for comment.

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