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'Your choice': Final warning to health staff to get vaccinated or face the sack

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Unvaccinated Queensland Health staff members will have to apply for an exemption to keep working in patient care settings once a COVID-19 mandate takes effect next week.

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Tens of thousands of public healthcare workers are required to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine from next Thursday and to be fully vaccinated by the end of October under the mandate.

Queensland Health said “more than 82 per cent” of its staff had received a first dose of vaccine but that still leaves thousands of workers potentially unvaccinated.

About 90,000 people work in public hospitals across the state.

Employees who have lodged an exemption application may be able to continue working until that is assessed, provided they wear personal protective equipment and undergo testing or work remotely in the meantime.

Exemptions are only expected to be granted in exceptional circumstances.

At some workplaces, InQueensland understands unvaccinated staff without an exemption are being directed to use up paid leave from next Thursday. Once that’s used up, they will then have to go on unpaid leave and may face termination.

Health insiders say they are concerned the mandate may result in workforce shortages at a time when public hospitals are already extremely stretched.

The issue is expected to have been factored into the Queensland Government’s reluctance to commit to reopening borders once 80 per cent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated with concerns about the increased pressure that will put on the hospital system in the event of a big Delta variant outbreak of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

In a recent email to staff, Queensland Health Director-General John Wakefield said the department respected “individual choice”.

“There are some staff who may not wish to be vaccinated,” Dr Wakefield said. “Our approach will be to discuss with any staff member who may decline to be vaccinated and explore whether there is any additional information or support that can be provided to enable them to be vaccinated.

“In some instances, staff may be unable to be vaccinated for a medical reason and we will work with these staff to explore alternative options to keep them and our workplaces safe.”

Nurses’ Professional Association of Queensland secretary Aenghas Hopkinson-Pearson said health workers had already begun to be rostered off shifts as a result of the mandate.

He said workplace shortages were a “real concern” for many of his members.

“The blanket solution of mandating the vaccine poses some very real patient risks and I don’t think the State Government has considered the industrial relations implications of what they’ve done,” Hopkinson-Pearson said.

“They haven’t consulted the workplace properly, they haven’t risk-assessed the impact of this decision on the wards. If they continue on the warpath that they’re on, it will have very, very real health implications for the broader public.

“We can’t afford to lose one nurse. Even before COVID, we had very, very severe patient ratio issues.”

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