19 Apr 2018

Waikato DHB to reverse face mask policy

5:58 pm on 19 April 2018

Waikato's District Health Board is set to reverse its contentious policy requiring staff without flu immunisations to wear face masks while treating patients.

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Photo: 123RF

The policy was brought in three years ago by the former DHB chief executive Nigel Murray, who resigned in October amid a furore over his spending in the role.

It required healthcare workers who couldn't show that they had the flu jab to wear personal protective equipment, such as a face mask, when involved in clinical duties or in a clinical area.

Several nurses were suspended briefly in 2015 after refusing to wear masks.

Acting DHB chief, Derek Wright, asked an infection control committee to review the policy in February and today said it found the masks were not effective in keeping staff or patients safe.

"So they work for a short period of time but if you've got a mask on for four or five hours, there's no barrier anymore," he said.

Mr Wright said the policy had no impact on immunisation rates among staff compared to other DHBs which did not introduce compulsory masks.

"If, for whatever reason, some people can't be vaccinated... then ensuring that they keep themselves well, and if they're showing any signs or symptoms of a cold or a flu, then not being at work."

He said many staff felt the policy was punitive and he would be focusing on creating a culture of responsibility towards the flu jab.

Mr Wright said he expected the majority of staff would opt to take up the free immunisation offered by the DHB.

The new policy is expected to be signed off in the next two to three weeks.