NURSE vaccinators have told the Herald they are feeling "hacked off" and demoralised over gulfs in pay which can see pharmacists, dentists and opticians earning nearly £700 a shift compared up to £150 for nurses.

A representative for Unison, which raised the discrepancy with the Scottish Government last month, also said it was a "burning issue" for members and warned that the situation could lead some highly experienced nurses to walk away, potentially slowing the rollout.

It comes amid anger over a memo distributed to vaccinators in the Glasgow region last week - and shared with the Herald - warning staff about "unprofessional behaviours and attitudes of some staff towards vaccinator colleagues" which are "unacceptable and will not be tolerated".

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The email, sent by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde's depute director of HR, Nareen Owens, appeared to be an attempt to squash tensions over pay by stressing that "everyone is working towards the same cause" and that "all staff are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect".

Ms Owens added: "By blending our workforce we have been able to ensure that we are not putting additional pressures on our acute and community colleagues who we need to deliver much needed care to our patients.

"We could not deliver this programme to this scale without everyone who has signed up."

HeraldScotland: Close to 30% of Scotland's total population has had at least one Covid vaccine dose to dateClose to 30% of Scotland's total population has had at least one Covid vaccine dose to date

However, one Glasgow-based nurse with more than 40 years experience who returned from retirement to help deliver the Covid vaccinations said the email had "felt like a slap in the face" to nurses doing the same job for £12 an hour for four-, eight-, or 12-hour shifts, while pharmacists, GPs, dentists, and optometrists who are categorised as independent contractors are paid five times more: £230 per 3.5 hour session, with maximum shifts of up to three sessions per day.

The pay rates have been set by nationally by the Scottish Government.

The nurse, who asked not to be named, said: “To be sent something like that from HR – they should be apologising for the disparity in pay or saying ‘we’re trying to address it’, not telling people to basically behave and be quiet.

"It was a case of ‘put up or shut up’, and people just felt taken aback.

"It's not that we want what they're getting paid - we don't. It's absolutely obscene, and it shouldn't be a money train.

"But I can understand why people feel hacked off because we're sitting there on teabreaks sometimes and all you hear about are their children's private school fees, or how wonderful their home is.

"We're doing exactly the same thing but we've been doing it for years and sometimes we're having to show them what to do."

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One Glasgow-based dentist vaccinator said he had also been surprised by the HR email, and stressed that nurse colleagues had "always been very pleasant".

He said: "I haven’t noticed any resentment as such, nor any unprofessional behaviour.

"Obviously there are many clinics each day so I may just be lucky, but this is also the case with everyone I have spoken to."

Anne Thomson, an MS nurse from Prestwick who returned from retirement to help out with the immunisation programme in Ayrshire, said she felt "so disappointed and angry" after learning of the pay gulf days after a 60-mile round trip to Largs - without travel expenses - for a vaccination shift.

HeraldScotland: Nurse Anne Thomson returned from retirement to help out with vaccinations, but said she was left feeling 'angry and disappointed' after discovering the pay gapNurse Anne Thomson returned from retirement to help out with vaccinations, but said she was left feeling 'angry and disappointed' after discovering the pay gap

Ms Thomson said: "None of us went into it thinking 'we're going to make a fortune here', it was just about going back and doing your bit.

"I was happy being back at work, but then you hear that the person that you're sharing a table with is getting paid five times more than you to do exactly the same thing.

"Where does that money come from?

"I would understand if they had run out of nurses and they had to bring more people in to get through, but my friend who's a nurse has had one four hour shift in three weeks.

"I had two four-hour shifts last week, and I've got nothing at all this week."

Willie Duffy, regional organiser for health at Unison, said they had raised concerns with the Scottish Government about the pay gap and reports from members in various health board areas that independent contractors were being favoured for shifts.

He said: "We've got numerous members complaining about it.

"The potential problem for government is that if our members walk away from this vaccination process they'll never get it done - there wouldn't be enough independent contractors.

"The independent contractors are only providing about 10% of the vaccinations, so people do feel very strongly about this. It's still is a burning issue.

"We're being told, in a number of health boards, that they've stood down bank nurses and other returners to the workforce in favour of the independent contractors.

"We've got staff willing and able to do it, but they've not been given shifts. It's bizarre."

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The latest figures show that Scotland has given 1.63 million people a first Covid vaccine dose, equivalent to 30 per cent of the population, with the rollout already translating into significant reductions in deaths and hospitalisations among the oldest Scots prioritised for the jag. 

In a statement, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it had vaccinated more than 300,000 people since December.

It added: "This progress could not have been achieved without the commitment of everybody involved.

"In addition to the contribution of NHS staff, we have built up a bank of vaccinators from other disciplines, to ensure that we are not putting unnecessary pressure on the range of services we provide for the people of Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

"We follow national pay scales at all times and are keen to ensure everyone is recognised for their contribution to the vaccination process."

HeraldScotland: Nareen Owens, depute director of HR for NHS GGC warned staff against 'unprofessional behaviours and attitudes towards vaccinator colleagues'Nareen Owens, depute director of HR for NHS GGC warned staff against 'unprofessional behaviours and attitudes towards vaccinator colleagues'

NHS Ayrshire & Arran said "rates of pay for vaccinators, including travel expenses, have been set by Scottish Government" and that it was "grateful and appreciative of the commitment of all staff in delivering mass vaccination clinics".

It added: "We are constantly reviewing and improving rostering arrangements to ensure our vaccination workforce are provided with the opportunity to vaccinate.

"This has included moving towards an electronic rostering system which allows staff to self-roster for shifts.

"Any staff who have not yet had the opportunity to support the programme will be able to book for shifts."

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A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The establishment of a mass Covid-19 vaccination programme is a huge undertaking, and one that has required us to mobilise and have available a large, capable and diverse workforce as quickly as possible to ensure that the 1,100 vaccinations sites we have in Scotland can operate at capacity, many seven days a week.

"It remains vital that as many people as possible are available to staff these centres.

“All staff employed to work on the programme are paid in accordance with nationally set terms and conditions and are working to agreed job roles, which come with specified rates of pay.”