The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) says some nurses having to deal with potential COVID-19 cases are not being given personal protective equipment (PPE) and that this could result in many unnecessary deaths.
NZNO Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSAW) is clear that employers have a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their workers, and that this was a critical matter for nurses right now - and for the wellbeing of the public as a whole.
"We have to keep our health workforce safe, especially our nurses who are the very frontline in the fight against COVID-19," Ms Nuku said.
"This includes nurses in hospitals and in primary care providers who provide immediate triage.
"We must also learn the lessons from overseas. Evidence from Italy and China’s Hubei province is compelling that health care workers became a significant vector in the explosion of cases. In Italy, health care workers make up 9 percent of infected patients.
"In Singapore, where they have learned the brutal lessons from Italy and China, there have been no reported COVID-19 transmissions from hospital workers."
She said that in Singapore all health care workers wear regular surgical masks and gloves. Hand washing is rigorously enforced and full PPE is worn, including N95 masks that protect from exposure to COVID-19 droplets in the air, unlike standard surgical masks.
NZNO is meeting daily with the district health boards (DHBS) to address COVID-19 issues affecting its members, including PPE shortages and nurses not having to wear their work clothes home. Ms Nuku said NZNO was impressing upon the DHBs that a national plan - detailing requirements, use and an apparent PPE shortage - must happen now to save lives.
"We expect this plan in place by the end of this week. In the meantime we expect that employers will provide full PPE, including N95 masks, to be used by every nurse wherever and as soon as there is risk.
"Protecting nurses so we can protect others is our most important issue right now."