1 Apr 2020

'Priority system' for masks leaves some health workers without

11:34 am on 1 April 2020

Frontline health workers in hospitals continue to ask for masks after seven million were dished out to community workers, but those in the wards are deemed as low risk.

Health professionals have been warning the health system is desperately stretched.

Photo: 123rf

Some nurses and clinical workers have been told there's a priority list for distribution of protective gear.

District health boards have put in a system where parts of the hospital are ranked for Covid-19 risk and safety gear is given out accordingly.

The Ministry of Health said there was plenty and continued to deny any shortage.

Lower Hutt ultrasound clinic owner Sally Agar said she had not been able to get masks and said it was a struggle to find viral wipes and other basic equipment.

Frontline health workers were getting contradictory information from the government, Agar said.

"We're told we have no shortage of masks, that there is a company in Whanganui producing 80,000 masks per day.

"Yet when I make an application to the Capital and Coast DHB for masks, I'm put on a priority system and I'm priority three, which is apparently the same as midwives.

"That would suggest to me that if we have plenty of masks, there should be no priority system."

She did not believe the officials who have said there was plenty of personal protection equipment.

" I don't believe we do have enough supplies.

"Every person who is basically deemed an essential business should have been given protective gear right from the go.

"We can shut a country down in two days, but we can't get masks and protective gear out to the people who are running the essential businesses?"

Agar questioned the ministry and its guidelines.

"I'm not sure what the point is in protective gear, if we can't have all the protective gear that we need in a pandemic. We have a global pandemic, and yet we're not actually required or allowed to wear the protective gear that's been designed to wear in a pandemic."

She was not the only one who was upset.

A nurse working at an Auckland hospital said staff were not allowed to wear surgical masks on the wards let alone make judgements about when they might need further protection.

"What is the big problem? If we deem, under our nursing assessments that we're we've been trained to do, then and there, in that situation with that patient, that we think that we require PPE why can we not use it?"

She said some staff who had brought in their own supply of masks had been told not to wear them.

Another Auckland nurse said she wasn't considered "frontline enough" to get protection.

"We're trying to be reasonable and understand that there is a pandemic going on and that one has to be conserving what is available, but basically just a mask would be, you know, the baseline for me."

The nurse said staff were afraid, and they didn't feel safe.

She said police officers and supermarket staff were better equipped than health workers in close contact with sick people who could be incubating the virus.

"We are still frontline workers, even though we're in the ward, and I think we're still getting exposed from five to 30 people in a shift, and there's no way we can maintain the 1-2-metre rules.

"We're doing jobs that include taking people to the toilet, giving IV medication, rolling them, sitting them up on the bed when they're coughing."

She warned of another Greymouth Hospital situation where nurses were unnecessarily exposed to a patient with Covid-19 because they didn't have the right equipment.

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