Union’s education conference backs motion to recognise SNAs as frontline healthcare workers for vaccinations
Fórsa conference calls on Government to complete vaccine roll-out to staff in special education schools
Delegates at Fórsa trade union’s Education division conference, which is taking place online today, has backed an emergency motion calling on the Government to complete the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccinations to staff within all special education schools. The emergency motion was tabled following an address to conference by Minister for Education Norma Foley TD.
The union said the Government vaccine schedule should take account of the fact that SNAs in schools provide the same level of care to students as frontline healthcare workers, and noted that the HSE had already made an assessment that SNAs fitted into the category of front line health workers when special education staff in one CHO (Community Health Organisation) were vaccinated earlier this week.
These staff work with children with disabilities, many of whom are in in the very high or high risk categories, and some support these people in residential and respite settings.
The conference supported the emergency motion which states that completing the vaccination programme in special education schools: “will resolve the vaccine lottery whereby healthcare staff working in special education schools have received the vaccine whereas special needs assistants (SNAs) in the same school have not.
“This lottery within special education means that staff in one special education school are offered protection against the virus whilst those working in other special education schools are not despite their exposure to the same level of risk.”
Proposing the motion to conference, the union’s head of Education Andy Pike said developments this week, when one of the HSE’s Community Health Organisations (CHO) included SNAs and teachers from special education schools within the vaccine roll-out, occurred because the local health officials believed SNAs should be included in the vaccination of healthcare staff in ‘cohort 2’ of the programme: “The statement from the HSE states that they ‘fitted into the category of front line health workers. These staff work with children with disabilities, many of whom are in in the very high or high risk categories, and some support these people in residential and respite settings.’
“These vaccinations took place alongside the vaccinations for those in vulnerable groups, without causing any delays and without denying vaccinations to any other group,” he said.
The statement from the HSE states that SNAs fitted into the category of front line health workers.
Mr Pike added that the risks to SNAs of meeting the intimate care needs of students have never been adequately assessed, but that staff working in special education schools in a number of other areas have also received the vaccine as the HSE identified them as frontline healthcare staff “on the basis they carry out the same work as staff in HSE disability services who have been vaccinated,” he said.
Speaking to media earlier this week Mr Pike noted that many of the SNAs currently working in schools had started working when the statutory SNA scheme was first established, with many now over the age of 50, which places them at greater risk should they contract Covid-19. He said many SNAs are parents of students with special education needs, and had real concerns about carrying infection back into their homes, and said the concerns of SNAs include the high risk of work absence due to Covid infection, and the negative impact that this would have on students with special education needs.
The union said the Government vaccine schedule should take account of the fact that SNAs in schools provide the same level of care to students as frontline healthcare workers.
He added: “The vaccination of education staff can be carried out in parallel with the vaccinations of other vulnerable groups. Government should accept the view of the HSE that SNAs are comparable to frontline healthcare workers and end these inconsistencies by rolling out the vaccine not only to staff in all of our special schools but also to all SNAs, teachers, secretaries and caretakers working in our schools system.
The emergency motion was seconded by SNA Lorraine Jakes who emphasised the risks faced by SNAs.
Fórsa has previously asked the Government to review its decision to remove special needs assistants (SNAs) from the Covid-19 vaccine priority list and to include them under ‘category nine’ of its revised vaccine schedule, which includes people aged 16-64 who work in crowded settings.
In a letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin last week Mr Pike said that SNAs work in crowded settings where social distancing is not possible, and that SNAs provide the same care to students as staff in HSE disability services: “There are few other groups outside health and social care who work on a consistent basis providing intimate care without the ability to maintain social distancing,” he wrote.
In the media:
Call for all special education staff to be vaccinated – (RTE News Friday 9th April 2021) Fórsa SNA member Carmel Stone in Galway (pictured above) contributes to this report by Teresa Mannion.