Government plans to oversee a mass swine flu vaccination programme here have been dealt a blow after it emerged that the Irish Nurses Organisation (INO) is not instructing its members to avail of the swine flu vaccine.

Instead, INO general secretary Liam Doran told the Sunday Tribune that it is up to individual nurses, who he said were "trained health professionals", to decide whether or not they wish to take the new vaccine.

The HSE has repeatedly emphasised the importance of high take-up rates of the swine flu vaccine among healthcare workers in limiting the potential spread of the disease.

But a survey of 1,500 nurses in Britain published last week revealed that almost a third will refuse the vaccine because of fears about its safety. Another third answered 'maybe' when asked if they would seek to be immunised.

Commenting on the INO's position on the vaccination programme, a HSE spokeswoman said the union had endorsed a recent circular which stated that healthcare staff "have a moral and ethical obligation to be vaccinated to protect themselves and their patients".

But Doran said that while it had endorsed the HSE circular, this was not the same as recommending to members that they avail of the vaccine.

"Our members are all health professionals, and it is a matter for each individual to decide based on their own individual circumstances," he said. "Each will make their own decision."

Meanwhile, four Irish students who travelled to Ayia Napa in Cyprus to celebrate their Leaving Cert results earlier this month have been hospitalised there with swine flu, it has emerged.