Waitakere: Nurses now in Covid-19 bubble

After claiming high-level backing for its rostering nurses to both Covid-19 and non-Covid wards, Waitakere Hospital has changed tack - and is also offering all staff tests for the virus.

Waitakere Hospital chiefs have told all staff they and others at the four northern DHBs can now be routinely tested for Covid-19 after concerns over three nurses catching the infection from elderly patients and spreading it further afield.

The hospital is also offering free psychology sessions for staff concerned at the internal outbreak.

It no longer has any Covid-19 patients, having moved the remaining three to North Shore Hospital.

Waitakere Hospital is under scrutiny over 10 cases of Covid-19 and its policy of rostering nurses to work in both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 areas. It has launched a Major Incident Review into its practices over the infections and has now created a 'bubble' for staff to work only in the Covid-19 ward.

Four patients, three nurses and three outsiders linked to the nurses have tested positive since six residents from the CHT St Margaret's Hospital and Rest Home in Te Atatu were moved to Waitakere in mid April. The nurses' positive tests were between April 27 and 30.

Initial findings of the review - involving internal Waitemata DHB officials and one person from the Waikato DHB - are due by Friday.

Waitakere Hospital, the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and even the Prime Minister have insisted the hospital had followed standard practice in moving nurses between the Covid-19 ward and elsewhere on separate shifts, but the DHB's acting head says it has decided to take added precautions.

While Waitakere has publicly issued the endorsement of its rostering by a regional clinical group led by Dr Vanessa Thornton, Newsroom understands its sister hospital at North Shore had kept the Covid-19 ward staff clearly isolated from other parts of the building or other staff.

In a confidential note to staff, acting Waitemata DHB chief executive Dr Andrew Brant said: "We have listened to your feedback and instituted a temporary 'bubble' system as a further precautionary measure to ensure that any Waitemata DHB ward with Covid-19 patients or confirmed close contacts is staffed exclusively by a dedicated pool of nurses who will not work subsequent shifts elsewhere."

"This is above and beyond what is advised and not a concept we will be rolling out beyond this pandemic.

"It would be impossible, for example, to run an ED or ADU if this thinking was applied across the board to every potentially infectious condition that our staff encounter."

Extensive contact tracing had been conducted for the three infected nurses and all tests on staff and patients had been negative. Brant did not mention three outsiders who had been infected, revealed by Newsroom on Monday from an internal hospital email. 

The voluntary Covid-19 testing for staff across the Waitemata, Auckland, Northland and Counties-Manukau boards, irrespective of whether they had symptoms or not - was an additional measure to give peace of mind.

The Major Incident Review, to be led by Mark Shepherd, the DHB's director of Provider Healthcare Services, would look at practices in use of PPE and infection control and any 'systems issues' that may have contributed to the three staff becoming infected with Covid-19.

The four-person panel would interview staff and give those on the Covid-19 ward an opportunity to express concerns. 

While initially confidential, the panel report would later be put on a staff intranet, Brant said.

* Made with the support of NZ on Air *

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