Coronavirus: Home support workers to get PPE after COVID-19 outcry

The Ministry of Health will send home support workers personal protective equipment (PPE), but stated its initial advice - that they don't really need it - remained true.

PPE is being distributed to District Health Boards (DHBs) throughout the country after many frontline health care workers voiced outrage they were working without it during the coronavirus crisis.

The level of indignation was perhaps summed up best by union E tū, which labelled the decision not to provide PPE to some health workers "ridiculous".

"All it takes is for one person to get COVID-19 and spread it to other clients, or even around a rest home, for the virus to spin out of control," director Kirsty McCully said at the time.

In a press briefing from Parliament on Tuesday afternoon, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the ministry would now be doing something about it.

"We are in the process of releasing a large number of masks from our national stocks out to our DHBs, and they will be distributing, in their regions, masks to frontline health workers in a range of organisations," he said.

These organisations include home and community support workers, pharmacies, disability support staff, and non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers that have face-to-face contact.

"I'm conscious that our frontline workers not only need to be safe, they need to feel safe," Dr Bloomfield continued.

"And I know that many of them are particularly concerned about elements of [our] advice… I am conscious that many of our frontline healthcare workers are concerned about not having access to masks when they feel they need them to be safe."

However Dr Bloomfield said he was confident the guidelines on the Government's COVID-19 website remained correct, as they have been backed by leading health experts.

"I think it's very good advice, it's from infectious diseases specialists and it's designed to ensure [health workers] know what PPE they wear in different situations," he said.

"The purpose of [sending PPE to home support workers] is not to contradict what's in the guidelines, because I think the advice is very good and is based on the best evidence.

"However, we also want our frontline health workers to feel they can access PPE when they want and need to use it."

Dr Bloomfield says such workers have an obligation to learn how to use PPE properly. There is a wrong way to put on gloves and masks, he said, and they risk of infection is higher if they don't get it right.