13 Nov 2020

MIQ nurses consider strike unless better masks provided

From Checkpoint, 5:27 pm on 13 November 2020

Nurses working in managed isolation and quarantine are considering walking off the job if they cant get better specialised masks to wear when dealing with potentially infectious returnees.

Their union said it does not consistently have access to what's known as N-95 masks that are used for infection control and are a step up from the simple surgical masks that are also used in MIQ.

The nurses organisation says the coronavirus is a highly contagious airborne pathogen that's a serious health risk - with two nurses and a defence force worker already infected through their work in managed isolation.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation industrial services manager Glenda Alexander told Checkpoint some but not all MIQ sites had a good supply and distribution of the high-quality N95 masks, and used the test fit process to ensure the masks were properly fitted.

"In other facilities they are still using the surgical masks and we are saying 'no, that is not appropriate given the growing body of evidence that says that the virus can be transmitted through airborne contact'."

Alexander said the nurses needed to be provided with the appropriate gear regardless of where they were working.

She said the shortage did not appear to be due to the cost or supply, as there were a large number of the masks in the country.

"We've been working with the employers and other parties, like MBIE," Alexander said, "to talk about how we can get the appropriate equipment provided in the places it needs to be for our members to be safe and for them to be safe to return home to their families at the end of their shift."

She said their workers were so concerned that they had asked the union to look at whether they could refuse unsafe work under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

She said that could mean they would refuse to undertake work which put them in direct contact with people who were infected or potentially infected.

"That's quite a big deal for a nurse to do that. They don't want to walk away from patients who need their care."

She said she hoped to get a response from the government resolving the problems within days.

Covid Response minister Chris Hipkins today said he had asked for further advice from the Ministry of Health about the use of the N95 masks.