Frontline workers with the Donegal Domestic Violence Service have been left angry and frustrated as they are passed over for the Covid-19 vaccine.

The Donegal Women’s Refuge has operated as an essential service throughout the pandemic, but some staff say they have now been told that they were not a priority.

This is despite Tusla, the centre’s main funders, negotiating with the HSE to have DSGBV (Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence) staff classified as frontline healthcare workers in Vaccine Allocation Group 2.

Dr. Marie Hainsworth, manager of Donegal Domestic Violence Service said she is outraged after two members of staff were contacted yesterday and asked about the nature of their work, before being told it was not their turn for the vaccine. Other staff, she said, continue to wait for a call.

Dr Marie Hainsworth

“You hear about HSE administrators and therapists being vaccinated and none of them are frontline service workers, whereas we have had to maintain the entire service throughout the pandemic, meeting clients face-to-face,” Dr. Hainsworth told Donegal Daily

“Luckily I have half of the staff vaccinated because they work in other organisations like Springboard, Lifestart or the Mental Health Advocacy Unit and they were asked through their organisations to get the vaccine. The staff that don’t live in Donegal who are connected to our organisation, who live in Cavan or Roscommon, they’ve all been vaccinated. But the staff who are based in Donegal who are just working for the service have not.

“The outreach staff may be lower priority and that is fair enough, but we have staff working at the frontline.”

Dr. Hainsworth continued: “Our clients come in in an emergency situation, they are not going to be thinking about PPE and face masks.

“We have to meet clients to do support work, help with filling out forms, sorting finances. Although we have physical distancing and staff wear masks, they are being put at risk and have been throughout the entire pandemic.”

Dr Hainsworth said the delay is impacting staff morale, particularly since the Saolta group announced on social media yesterday that all frontline healthcare workers in Donegal have been vaccinated.

There are 13 members of staff in the domestic violence service team, including the two administrators who are not a priority.

Seeking some extra level of protection, Dr Hainsworth has called for staff in the emergency accommodation service to be prioritised.

She said: “There is actually only four frontline workers that really need to be vaccinated to keep the refuge going. Even if they delayed the outreach workers. 

“You’re only looking at four more vaccines but it would make this building so much more secure.”

Dr Hainsworth said her attempts to gain answers from the HSE were met with replies stating that they are working through the list as a priority.

The service has so far managed to continue operating in times when staff have had to self-isolate, and the refuge has been fortunate not to have cases onsite. That is with staff being extremely careful, Dr Hainsworth said, adding: “But we can’t continue this, we have to have some back up and support.”