Hundreds of visitors are being allowed to visit Auckland DHB hospitals every day, despite the region being at the highest Covid-19 alert level due to the Delta outbreak.
The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) says it is absurd that the DHB has the softest visitor policy of any DHB in the country, despite the heightened risk in Auckland.
NZNO has been raising concerns about the inconsistent visitor policies as well as poor visitor behaviour, including people refusing to wear masks and turning up in groups.
WorkSafe is now involved and Auckland District Health Board (ADHB) says it will now be involving health and safety representatives in further decision making.
NZNO acting nursing and professional services manager Kate Weston told Nine to Noon even other DHBs in the Auckland region had stricter visitor policies.
ADHB’s policy was “completely illogical given the size of the hospital” and the number of people coming through, she said.
“It’s actually causing people to break their level 4 alert bubbles, so there’s just so many reasons that this is not a good decision and it’s putting patients and staff at risk by having such a free policy.
“The majority of hospitals in the region and around the country are limiting their visiting to really strict compassionate grounds, which is understandable because obviously people in those situations do need to be able to provide support to your loved ones … but to have more than one visitor at a time is a real problem.
“Up until – I understand – a couple of days ago, there were several visitors per patient per bed. So if you put that in a four-bedded patient room context, you can have seven or eight individuals from different bubbles, mixing and mingling with patients, which is a real concern.
“Then when those people have gone another group come through. So it is a very considerable risk.”
The NZNO and other unions had asked for national consistency around visitor rules.
“We need to be minimising any degree of risk and bringing people into a hospital situation with insufficient controls – we’re concerned about the screening at the front door, we’re concerned about how the masking policies are being applied – we really need consistency.
“We’ve had other national directives affecting health care staff. Why can’t we have a national directive.
“We’ve got a level 4 [lockdown] in the Auckland region. That should be enough to be able to really ensure that there are strict guidelines adhered to.”
An ADHB statement said patients were allowed two visitors per day, but only one at a time.
The NZNO would support one visitor for compassionate grounds only.
“We are talking beginning and end of life,” Weston said.
“If people are in hospital for a short time … then people shouldn’t be visiting because the right of patients to have visitors obviously is protected, however, those are extenuating circumstances.
“We cannot afford to have people unwittingly bringing Covid into the system, threatening the patients who are vulnerable.”
In addition, the healthcare workforce was stretched, she said.
“We don’t have the numbers to be able to unnecessarily stand staff down because they have been exposed to Covid.”
She understood people wanted to visit their loved ones, but “right now observe the level 4 restrictions and stay at home and protect your loved ones, those that are in the DHB and the people who are providing the care to those patients”.
Weston said information coming to the union suggested there was a disconnect between screening at the front door and where they were going in the hospital.
“It comes down to mostly the nursing staff to have to challenge and really get into those really unpleasant confrontational situations.
“That’s not fair to put a nurse who is providing care and support to patients into a role of having to police whether or not people are wearing a mask, whether or not they’re leaving on time, when arguably many of those people shouldn’t be there right now anyway.
“But the responsibility provide a … safe place to work actually rests with Auckland DHB.
“This is why we have had to go through to WorkSafe to actually try to get some legal support to what actually seems to be a very reasonable request – which is ‘come to align with every other DHB and the country who have done the right thing’.”
NZNO also wanted every patient treated as potentially Covid-19 positive until they were proved not to be – and the same for visitors.
No-one from the ADHB was available to speak to Nine to Noontoday.
However, a statement from director of provider services Dr Mike Shepard said the safety of staff, patients and visitors was a priority.
“We have undertaken a full risk assessment for this policy and are comfortable that any risks are being well managed,” the statement said.
“We have visitor screening at entrances to check for symptoms of Covid-19 and to ensure the policy is complied with.
“We are making changes to our guidance and improving our processes following feedback from our staff and their union representatives.
“Our current approach is aligned with national guidance on hospital visitors.”