Healthcare workers will die of Covid-19 and infect patients unless the Government takes urgent action to ensure all staff had effective protective gear, a doctor warns.

Auckland obstetrician and gynaecologist Sarah Corbett has spoken out about the distress she continues to hear from her colleagues across the country.

"They are scared for themselves, their families and their patients.

"Staff are being told off and pulled into meetings for 'inappropriate use' of PPE [personal protective equipment]. DHBs are actively discouraging staff from wearing face masks and ignoring advice from above."

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One nurse told the Herald she had experienced symptoms of Covid-19 and was awaiting test results when her boss told her she had to work and to take off her face mask as it was unnecessary and causing anxiety among patients. Her test results have since come back negative.

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National leader Simon Bridges said it was "simply unacceptable" that this was still going on and that healthcare workers were "getting bullied into not wearing PPE".

"Being told staff seen wearing face masks creates anxiety and fear among patients is ridiculous and we need to get over that stigma.

National leader Simon Bridges was backing the doctors' calls for better PPE, saying it was
National leader Simon Bridges was backing the doctors' calls for better PPE, saying it was "simply unacceptable" that this hadn't been addressed. Photo / File

"All healthcare workers who want to wear PPE should be able to."

It comes after the director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield said, last Monday, healthcare workers should feel safe and know they could access PPE when they want and need to use it.

"I am conscious that many of our frontline health workers are concerned about not having access to masks when they feel they need to feel safe," Bloomfield said last Monday.

Since then, Corbett and Auckland obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Emma Parry sent a letter - on behalf of hundreds of New Zealand medical specialists - to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Health Minister David Clark, and Bloomfield on Wednesday, April 1.

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"It is imperative that we protect our essential workers and in particular our healthcare workers who are most at risk.

"In this hour of need, healthcare workers are putting their lives on the line for all
New Zealanders.

"The implications for getting this wrong are enormous. There is data regarding rates of healthcare worker infection from Italy, France, and from the initial wave in China which is frightening. Double digits of healthcare professionals dying."

In Italy, more than 6000 healthcare workers (HCW) had been infected with Covid-19 and 37 had died. In China, more than 3000 HCW were infected and at least five had died.

And in the UK, at least four doctors and two nurses died.

"We've heard from colleagues in Italy, the UK and Hong Kong that healthcare workers are dying as a result of ineffective protective gear," Corbett said.

She said the same outcome would happen in New Zealand if the Ministry of Health did not take urgent action to ensure all healthcare workers had effective PPE.

She said apart from an initial acknowledgement email, they'd had no reply and were extremely disappointed by this.

Bridges told the Herald he planned to discuss the issue with Bloomfield tomorrow morning.

"I had sought assurance from the director-general and Health Minister David Clark last Tuesday and they were very clear they were addressing the issue on ground but quite clearly on the coalface that's not happening and it's simply not good enough."

The Herald sought further comment from Bloomfield and Ministry of Health representatives but has yet to hear back.

Auckland obstetrician and gynaecologist Sarah Corbett has spoken out about the distress she continues to hear from her colleagues across the country about lack of PPE. Photo / Supplied
Auckland obstetrician and gynaecologist Sarah Corbett has spoken out about the distress she continues to hear from her colleagues across the country about lack of PPE. Photo / Supplied

Calls from doctors include:

• A review of the Ministry of Health's personal protective equipment (PPE) guidelines to ensure all healthcare workers had access.

• More effective PPE for healthcare workers involved in screening, as some patients who had screened negative had later been confirmed to have Covid-19.

• Stronger regulations to ensure district health boards were following national guidelines.

• More transparency and honesty: "If we don't have the supply, let's just be honest about that," Corbett said.