Health workers call for urgency over protective gear shortages

A health worker dressed in full PPE gear during training for care of Covid-19 patients in ICU....
A health worker dressed in full PPE gear during training for care of Covid-19 patients in ICU. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas
Health workers are accusing the Canterbury District Health Board of failing to provide enough masks and protective equipment to prevent spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

After consultation with unions, the Health Ministry has published new guidelines widening access to personal protective equipment - or PPE - to all health workers in close contact with patients, regardless of whether the patients have symptoms.

However, some said it was not filtering down to the front line.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield revealed yesterday that 20 support and care staff, 17 nurses, seven hospital administration staff, seven doctors and three medical students are currently infected with Covid-19.

  • 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

The Public Service Association union, which represents 8000 caregivers and home-support workers, said access to PPE was a major problem for some of them.

PSA national secretary Kerry Davies said the guidelines were fine, but she worried they would not be properly implemented.

"There's some really ... serious problems in the Canterbury, Southern and Bay of Plenty districts of providers being able to access PPE, and we've raised that with the Ministry in the hope that problem can be fixed," she said.

Davies said the union was dealing with "some very distressed people" who were unable to access PPE.

Although the distribution system was being centralised so providers could put through orders and have the equipment delivered directly to them, rather than going through DHBs, it was not yet up and running, she said.

"We keep getting told that they're working on it and it's happening any day now ... but that's a real concern for us that these blockages in Canterbury, Southern and Bay of Plenty can be unblocked."

The Ministry today released specific guidelines for those working in maternity care, specifying which PPE should be worn when dealing with different groups of women, from those who were healthy but simply in lockdown like everyone else, to those who had tested positive for Covid-19, or those who were in isolation because they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive, or had recently returned from overseas.

College of Midwives chief executive Alison Eddy. Photo: Supplied
College of Midwives chief executive Alison Eddy. Photo: Supplied
College of Midwives chief executive Alison Eddy said there was still room for midwives to use their own clinical judgement.

"There might be circumstances where midwives might feel they want to use a mask, even when it's not necessarily recommended on this document.

"And we certainly believe that midwives should have the ability to use that judgement when they need it, and and they certainly should have access to the equipment to exercise that clinical judgement as well.

Eddy said there been "some improvement" in distribution of PPE recently, but it was still a problem for community midwives in particular.

"There still seems to be some issues with the quantity that people can access, and that's not fully resolved, for community midwives especially, who are not working in hospitals."

Resident Doctors Association national secretary Deborah Powell said the scientific evidence was that masks were not required in every clinical setting - but the new guidelines went beyond that, because it was important to make people feel everything possible was being done to ensure their safety.

She said it was a worrying time for her members, who included trainee hospital interns, house surgeons, senior house officers and registrars.

"The fact of the matter is we know that health workers internationally have died because of their front-line work," Dr Powell said.

"There is a degree of nervousness out there but this is our job, this is what we do, and healthcare workers will be there for our patients."

Dr Powell said there had been some distribution problems with PPE but she hoped DHBs were "now getting on top of them".



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