The regulator overseeing the registration of emergency medical technicians, paramedics and advance paramedics in Ireland has called for volunteers to be utilised during the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

The Health Service Executive and Department of Health have been asked to consider using volunteers from organisations including the Order of Malta and Civil Defence to administer the vaccines.

The Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC), which regulates pre-hospital emergency care and registers practitioners, told RTÉ's Morning Ireland this could help alleviate pressures on frontline responders.

The independent statutory body’s call comes as the Oireachtas Health Committee was told yesterday the healthcare system is facing a backlog of patients, due to Covid-19, that will stretch the health services "to the absolute limit".

There are 5,500 PHECC registered practitioners - EMTs, Paramedics and Advance Paramedics - trained to administer intramuscular injections. 2,500 of these work for two statutory providers - the National Ambulance Service and Dublin Fire Brigade.

The remaining PHECC registered practitioners work in private companies and the voluntary sector and "are available to the system and can be called upon to assist in the national vaccination programme as vaccinators," PHECC’s Director, Richard Lodge told Morning Ireland.

Mr Lodge said 25 organisations including the Civil Defence, the Order of Malta, St John Ambulance, and the Red Cross confirmed their PHECC registered practitioners are willing and available to administer the vaccines.

"We currently have 5,500 full qualified and trained pre-hospital emergency care professionals on our registers.

The EMTs, paramedics and advanced paramedics are all fully trained in giving intermuscular injections and also recognising or treating any untoward emergency complications such as anaphylaxis.

"Less than 50% the PHECC practitioners are employed by the statutory services - that's the National Ambulance Service and Dublin Fire Brigade. That leaves us with somewhere between 2,000 and 2,800 practitioners deployed across the voluntary services, the auxiliary services and the private services. The suggestion is that they are already fully trained to give vaccines and to recognise and treat any of the emergency reactions you could see afterwards.

"If we have 5,500 qualified trained pre-hospital emergency health care professionals, about half of those are employed in direct frontline medical positions at the moment. The other half aren’t. Therefore, if they were available, and they were willing, and they could fit in to the vaccine programme, it would not be as expensive as taking people away from frontline medical services," said Mr Lodge.

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PHECC wrote to twenty-five organisations, including the Order of Malta, the Civil Defence, and St John Ambulance asking whether their qualified and PHECC registered volunteers would be willing to take part of the national vaccine rollout.

It established the volunteers within the 25 organisations want to get involved. It also received permission from the organisations to share their contact details with the HSE. This happened on Monday. 

In the letter to the 25 organisations, PHECC's director Richard Lodge, wrote he had been in contact with HSE workforce planning who "have responsibility for the development of the workforce and training plan to facilitate the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination plan".

He stated in the letter, that under the HSE’s plan for vaccine rollout it needs to "be able to staff eight Mass Vaccination Centres to be ready to start largescale vaccination by 1 March". 

Mr Lodge adds in the letter the HSE is now "keen to make contact with the voluntary groups" with "a view to vaccination administration and also for potential assistance in training others". 

"In January we wrote out to 25 of those institutions and asked them would they be interested in being part of the Covid-19 vaccination programme and would they mind if I passed their details on to the HSE," said Mr Lodge.

"I am pleased to say, that without exception, they all came back said they were very keen to be part of a programme and happy for their details to be passed on to the HSE.

"Where we are now is that we have collated all that data with the contact details and we have passed that data on to the HSE," said Mr Lodge.

"It may be the case that they are not required at present because the numbers of vaccines are so low, but if the numbers are going to ramp up significantly over the next month or two months then there may be a role for these people to play in the future," added Mr Lodge.

Twenty-five organisations have said their members will participate in the programme

The Department of Health told Morning Ireland in a statement that a query by the programme on the matter is "best addressed to the HSE for response".

The HSE said in a statement it is "in the process of mobilising personnel for the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines. The workforce planning process is examining options for recruitment of vaccinators from those listed in the Statutory Instrument; these include: pharmacists, medical practitioners, nurses, physiotherapists, paramedics, EMTs and advance paramedics. The HSE is currently examining the options available to support the recruitment of vaccinators". 

Róisín McGuire, Principal at the Civil Defence National Training College said 300 EMTs in the Civil Defence are available to administer the vaccine. 

Ms McGuire wrote to the country’s 28 local authorities inquiring whether their local Civil Defence volunteer EMTs are available to administer the Covid-19 vaccine on behalf of the HSE. She said the response was an "overwhelming yes". 

"The volunteers are very interested in assisting the HSE in the administration of the vaccine and will help out in any way they can," she said. 

The PHECC call is supported by the Order of Malta, St John’s Ambulance and the Civil Defence.

John Hughes, Commissioner St John Ambulance Ireland and Peadar Ward, CEO of Order of Malta Ireland confirmed to Morning Ireland their organisations support PHECC’s calls.

"We are of the view that we have a significant cadre of people right throughout the country and we would be very anxious to help in the rollout of the vaccine," Mr Ward told Morning Ireland.

Both men said as charities remuneration would be expected in return for their participation in any vaccine rollout.

Michael Sheehan, a Co Wexford based Fianna Fáil councillor, first raised using voluntary and civil organisations for the rollout of vaccines in January.

Yesterday, he said using volunteers is efficient and works well at a grass roots level.

"Here’s an opportunity to use the infrastructure that is already in place through the county councils and the local authority system where all of the grassroots organisations and all of the auxiliary organisations are indeed on a daily basis working side by side.

"Under the emergency and the management plans local organisations, volunteers and groups can be mobilised quickly. You also have the facilities and the knowledge of where the communities are. To me it’s a win, win situation," he said.