Cancer patients and critically ill children are being put in further danger due to Auckland hospital nurses continuing to work lucrative shifts at managed isolation hotels, a whistle-blower warns.
The Herald has been told that dozens of Auckland, Waitemata and Counties Manukau District Health Board-employed nurses have reportedly been working up to 80 hours a week after picking up extra shifts at managed isolation facilities where they are paid $50 an hour.
It comes after the Herald first revealed details of the moonlighting in July, prompting Health Minister Chris Hipkins to seek advice and switch the contract from Geneva Healthcare to the DHBs that would put a stop to the moonlighting.
A senior nurse at Waitemata District Health Board told the Herald dozens of nurses had been jumping between hospitals, including the emergency department and intensive care unit, and managed isolation facilities with no stand-down period.
She said she knew of more than a dozen in her ward and was aware of it happening in other wards and at Auckland City and Middlemore hospitals.
Some were working up to 80 hours a week, getting paid $50 an hour for working managed isolation facilities which was much more than what they were paid by the DHB, she said.
The nurse said her manager had raised "serious concerns" with Waitemata DHB nursing management, but believed those concerns hadn't been acted on.
"It's basically a ticking time bomb," the nurse said.
"If one of those nurses became infected and passed it on to a hospital staff member or patients, the impact would be huge."
The nurse - who did not want to be named out of fear she might lose her job for speaking out - said even if staff working at these facilities were being tested every day there was still an incubation period where someone could become infected, go undetected and unknowingly pass it on to someone at the hospital.
Concerns were echoed by Nurses Society of New Zealand director David Wills who said it was not best practice and the union had strongly advised members against the moonlighting.
Ailsa Claire, Lead for the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre, said they were aware of the moonlighting and took concerns of its workforce very seriously.
"It is incorrect to suggest those who have raised concerns have not been listened to."
Claire said she was not aware of nurses working up to 80 hours a week and the changes set to be made would mean this scenario cannot occur.
She said a move to a dedicated staffing model was under way and was being developed in partnership with the NZ Nurses' Organisation and the Ministry of Health. It will be rolled out by next week.
She added: "We would like to assure the public that our hospitals, clinics and other sites are safe to attend – as has been the case throughout the Covid-19 pandemic."
National Party health spokesman Dr Shane Reti said he was appalled the moonlighting was still happening.
On July 28, after the Herald's initial story, Reti asked Hipkins in Parliament for details of the moonlighting and his expectation to which he was told: "I expect DHBs to employ dedicated workforces for those facilities, even if they rotate in and out for periods of time."
Hipkins then said: "As at August 1 DHBs have taken over health services at managed isolation and quarantine facilities. My expectation is that anyone working in a managed isolation or quarantine facility who subsequently works in a different role will adhere to a stand-down period of 48 hours and return a negative test for Covid-19."
Hipkins acknowledged these expectations and said the Ministry of Health had established an implementation plan that would achieve this by the end of August.
"The Jet Park quarantine facility in Auckland now has a dedicated workforce, as do MIQ [managed isolation quarantine] facilities in Christchurch."
Hipkins said he had received assurance that additional protections were in place to reduce risk, such as ensuring staff do not work in both MIQ and rest homes.
"Regular Covid-19 testing has also now been implemented in all MIQ. Full implementation of dedicated workforces for MIQ remains a priority for the Government."