Doctors’ union wants answers over seven nurses infected at NZ hospital
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By Katie Scotcher, reporter for RNZ News

A New Zealand doctors’ union fears the Waitematā District Health Board is covering up mistakes that led to seven of its staff contracting covid-19 coronavirus.

Staff from Waitākere Hospital tested positive for the coronavirus after patients from St Margaret’s Hospital and Rest Home in Auckland were moved there.

The Resident Doctors Association said the the District Health Board (DHB) had failed to answer questions about the outbreak and workers at the hospital were increasingly nervous.

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The seven people who contracted covid-19 at Waitākere Hospital were all nurses, but Dr Deborah Powell from the Resident Doctors Association said it could have been anyone.

“It could’ve been a cleaner, it could’ve been a resident doctor, it could’ve been a laboratory phlebotomist.”

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It was not yet clear how the nurses caught the disease.

Health officials are investigating whether they were infected through environmental contamination, after the DHB ordered an urgent review into the outbreak this month.

Unions want answers
Dr Powell said the unions representing hospital workers wanted answers now, and their repeated questions to the DHB had fallen on deaf ears.

“The unions have said to the District Health Board ‘we’re not interested in blame here, we’re interested in what went wrong so we can learn from it, that’s what we do in health’. We don’t get better unless we understand where we’ve made mistakes or we could’ve done things better.”

Unions wanted to know why the nurses and doctors treating patients infected with covid-19 were able to move between wards and why their personal protection equipment appeared to have failed, Dr Powell said.

Dr Powell also wanted to know why the St Margaret’s patients were taken to Waitākere Hospital in the first place.

“When we went into lockdown, vulnerable workers in health were moved away from the frontline, they were moved away from potential covid cases and quite a few of our North Shore people were put at Waitākere, the vulnerable people, because it was meant to be kept away from covid. The covid ward is at North Shore hospital.”

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield talks to media during a Covid-19 coronavirus briefing on 6 May, 2020.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield … patients were “closer to their whanau in their community”. Image: RNZ/Pool/NZME

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the patients were moved to Waitākere Hospital because of the level of care they required, and because “it was also closer to their whanau in their community”.

Waitematā DHB declined RNZ’s request for an interview. RNZ also contacted some of the elected members of the DHB, but all declined to comment.

Review details
The urgent review’s terms of reference obtained by RNZ revealed a little more detail.

It showed the panel was reviewing Waitākere Hospital’s infection, prevention and control measures, as well as the use of PPE, training, rostering and the management of patients.

However, it is not investigating how the staff contracted covid-19 – this was being done by Auckland Regional Public Health.

Dr Bloomfield said he expected to be given a copy of the review today.

“The important thing here is we learn from each of the instances we have had so that we can then update our approach and policies nationally, which is what we’re intending to do here,” Dr Bloomfield said.

Dr Powell said the review process had lacked transparency.

“There’s a feeling of cover up here, which is utterly unnecessary and unhelpful, so I think that’s making people more nervous.”

The Waitematā District Health Board has indicated the review will be made public at the end of this week.

No new coronavirus cases
The Ministry of Health reported no new cases of covid-19 today as the country prepared go relax lockdown rules to alert level 2 on Thursday.

The number of confirmed and probable cases remains at 1497, with 1147 confirmed.

Two people are in hospital – one in Middlemore Hospital and one in North Shore Hospital – but there are no patients in ICU and there have been no further deaths.

Dr Bloomfield said 12 more people have recovered – 93 percent have recovered overall.

  • This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.
  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP – don’t show up at a medical centre.
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