At least 24 staff at Middlemore Hospital's emergency department have been stood down from duties because of potential exposure to Covid-19, a healthcare worker at the department claims.
The Ministry of Health last week confirmed a small number of staff at the busy emergency department had been stood down after a patient who visited the ED later tested positive for the Delta variant.
The Northern Region Health Co-ordination Centre (NRHCC) would not confirm if that number had ballooned to at least 24, but said 144 staff across the entire Counties Manukau District Health Board (DHB) were on Covid-19-related sick leave, including some from the ED.
But a healthcare worker, who asked not to be named, said the hospital's ED was already under pressure because of staffing shortages and the number of staff being scratched from the rosters daily was a serious concern.
"It's only going to get worse. We have Covid-19 positive patients in the hospital and it's always a risk to staff when we are looking after them," they said. "The healthcare system was already under pressure and this only adds to it.
"I think the Counties Manukau DHB is doing the best it can under the circumstances, but it's an evolving situation that we haven't had to deal with before."
The Northern Region Health Co-ordination Centre (NRHCC) refused to confirm, or deny, the number of staff who have been stood down from Middlemore Hospital's emergency department.
But in a statement a spokesperson said 144 staff from the Counties Manukau DHB are currently on Covid-19 related sick leave, including staff from the ED.
They said the figure also covers people who may have visited a location of interest and are considered a close contact.
The spokesperson said it won't affect hospital staffing levels and is only a small fraction of the DHB's workforce.
They said none of the affected staff members have taken leave because of a Middlemore Hospital emergency department employee who tested positive for Covid-19 last week.
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) executive director Sarah Dalton said losing so many staff members is a lot for any hospital department to cope with, let alone an extremely busy emergency department.
"I think it's the right thing to do to stand them down," she said. "But a lot of emergency departments were already struggling before this outbreak, with winter illnesses and staffing shortages, and they can ill afford this."
Dalton said it will only add to the pressure on other healthcare workers to pick up the slack.
Last week it was revealed a Middlemore Hospital staff member, who works in the emergency department, had tested positive for Covid-19.
A Ministry of Health spokesman said the public health risk was low as the staff member was asymptomatic and had been fully vaccinated.
An internal memo sent to Middlemore Hospital staff on August 20 said a patient had entered the ED between 10.45pm and 2.30am on August 13 and 14.
But the patient self-discharged without seeing a doctor and had since returned a positive Covid test.
The Ministry of Health said it had been advised that following an investigation and testing, a small number of ED staff members had been stood down as a matter of caution. At the time all staff had been tested and all returned negative results.