Waikato Hospital nurses who contracted Covid-19 put on protective gear to deal with a patient with respiratory symptoms but were told to take the masks and gowns off, their union says.
A Waikato DHB spokesman told the Herald no formal complaint had been received, but it had requested details about the allegations "to enable us to investigate and determine its validity".
Since news of the nurses' situation broke yesterday, the NZ Nurses Organisation says it has heard from members in other areas who have had similar problems in accessing personal protective equipment (PPE).
"While we have this issue in Waikato, overnight I have had lots of messages saying, 'I don't want to identify, but this is happening in my place, too'. So hopefully this will bring about a change and free up access to masks," Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said.
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Those nurses were scared to speak up, Nuku said.
"Some of our nurses in the early days spoke up, and they have been threatened with action once this is over. To work under that threat is not okay.
"Now more than ever the nurses need to retain their job, because their partner has just been made redundant. This is really bad if they can't speak up to protect their own safety and the safety of others."
In a statement sent to media today, the DHB said it "strongly refutes any suggestion that PPE is being restricted and staff prevented from accessing masks and other protective equipment", and said the source of the nurses' infection had not been determined.
"Very clear policies and protocols" for PPE use are continuously updated in line with national guidance, which is based on the advice of experts including in microbiology, infectious disease and infection control.
"At a time when there is heightened anxiety, not just in our communities but also amongst our healthcare workers, it is essential that we listen to those experts and follow their guidance," the DHB stated.
"At Waikato DHB, the guidance for appropriate use of PPE is based on research and evidence and does not give consideration to stock levels."
The Herald yesterday revealed two Waikato Hospital nurses working with elderly patients have tested positive for Covid-19. Both worked on the older persons rehabilitation [OPR] ward 5 and any staff who worked on the ward over the week to April 6 are now in self-isolation for 14 days.
In response, Waikato DHB chief executive Dr Kevin Snee said the hospital was taking all precautions, there were no Covid-19 positive patients on the ward at present, and staff had all the recommended PPE and were trained in its use, in addition to face masks being available for casual contacts with patients and other staff.
However, Nuku said the union had received complaints from the two nurses, who believe they could have contracted Covid-19 from a patient who had respiratory symptoms.
A number of workers agreed masks and gowns should be worn, but the nurses were told by senior staff to remove them as they weren't needed, Nuku said.
The patient wasn't tested for coronavirus, Nuku said, but it's understood they had a family member who had contact with a case linked to overseas travel.
"This person came in, and while they hadn't been tested for Covid they were certainly exhibiting problems - enough to concern not just one member, but a number felt extremely concerned [and] they went ahead and took the next steps to wear masks and gowns.
"We are really concerned if district health boards are behaving in this way, and putting the lives and safety of staff on the backburner, to ration PPE gear. It definitely seems contradictory to the message being sent out by Dr Bloomfield."
In its statement, Waikato DHB said it has "gone beyond best practice" and provided protective gear to staff working in areas considered very low risk.
"Masks are available in all areas of the hospital and communications have previously been released to staff notifying them of the availability and use.
"Despite following the best guidance available, it is not possible to entirely eliminate risk. It is distressing to see colleagues impacted by Covid-19, whether through testing positive or being stood down as contact tracing is undertaken. We have not yet confirmed the index case which has led to our staff members testing positive and will keep our staff and community informed as this progresses.
"At the same time we will continue to follow the guidance and experience of experts and ensure staff are provided with the training and equipment which is required."