3 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Prepare to reuse goggles, frontline health workers told

7:55 am on 3 April 2020

Frontline health care workers are being asked to reuse a part of their personal protective equipment (PPE).

A member of the medical team of the Second Military Medical University puts on protective clothing at Hankou Hospital in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, on 27 January, 2020.

A member of the medical team of the Second Military Medical University puts on protective clothing at Hankou Hospital in Wuhan on 27 January, 2020. Photo: Xinhua / Xiao Yijiu / AFP

However, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has consistently rejected the idea the country was struggling to provide enough equipment, and the Ministry of Health has denied for weeks that there is any shortage.

Dr Bloomfield has previously said it was a distribution problem, not a shortage, and they were working to get the equipment to where it was needed most.

He repeatedly said there was enough in New Zealand and the supply chain was not disrupted with more on the way.

The messaging was consistent from the top, but those at the frontline begged to differ.

A nurse from Counties Manukau, who RNZ has agreed not to name, said they had been warned they would need to share.

"We are also being advised we will have to reuse eyewear and wipe it down between uses and share them. Typically the eye shields would be disposable," the nurse said.

"We are constantly being told there is enough PPE for both inpatient and community."

But the nurse said they were not even being given scrubs.

"We are also taking our work clothes home and through our cars."

The nurse and their colleagues were worried about endangering not only their bubble at home - but the patients they worked with.

The gear they need is being kept under lock and key, with those at the frontline, forbidden to protect themselves, the nurse said.

MidCentral District Health Board had been running 'simulations' of how to reuse PPE since last week.

When questioned by RNZ, the DHB chief executive, Kathryn Cook, in a statement said it was limited to goggles.

"At MidCentral District Health Board, various types of eye protection are being used, and reusable goggles are one form of eye protection that we utilise.

"This is the only item of personal protective equipment that is being reused, as they are designed for this purpose."

Cook said staff had been trained to remove the goggles safely.

This practice involved "placing them into a disposable dish, then safely placing them into a clearly labelled container for safe transition to the Sterile Services department where they are thoroughly and safely decontaminated."

"Once the container is cleaned and the goggles are reprocessed, the goggles are placed into a plastic bag, labelled with a 'decontaminated' sticker, and returned to the ward for ongoing use," Cook said.

Another nurse said being asked to share proved "an obvious lack of supply".

But an Emergency Department Doctor from Hamilton said visors and eyewear would only be reused if they had been in low-risk situations.

Last week, the Ministry of Health said they had 60,000 sets of eyewear in their national stocks.

On Thursday, Dr Bloomfield said they had put in an order for more than a million pairs of gloves, 850,000 safety glasses and 640,000 face shields.

  • 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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