Coronavirus: Health workers threatened with disciplinary action for speaking out over PPE issues

A doctor at Waikato Hospital has told Newshub he feels safer going to New World than he does going to work - because the supermarket lets him wear a mask.

And we've also learned from health workers at a number of DHBs what happens if they complain to us. They're warned they could face disciplinary action for going public.

Waikato Hospital - where some staff feel fearful of airing their concerns on personal protective equipment (PPE).

A doctor there told Newshub: "The reason hospital doctors don't speak out is because we are bullied constantly by DHB managers, told not to talk to the press… on the threat of being terminated".

"I was even instructed that I had to take my mask off when entering the hospital because it is not DHB policy," they added.

"Truth is I feel safer at New World lining up to pay at the counter, with a mask on, two metres behind the customer behind me, than I do at work".

The Prime Minister says this is "unacceptable".

"It's not acceptable ever to threaten their employment over that," Jacinda Ardern says. "If I were to find where that was happening, there will be follow-up on that. That is not okay."

A spokesperson for the Waikato DHB told Newshub "masks are available to all staff in all areas of our hospitals".

He went on to say: "it's disappointing to see these alleged complaints in media as they are in direct contrast to our policy."

Waikato urologist Dr Michael Holmes agrees there was a problem, but says the hospital's PPE stocks have improved, culture is shifting, and staff shouldn't feel pressured by managers.

"From a personal point of view, I believe you have to be responsible for your own health and safety, so if you're feeling that that is important for you, you need to be able to stand up for that," he says.

Nationally Ardern says PPE supplies are in good shape.

"We do not have an issue with the stock of PPE. We continue to try and meet any needs that we're hearing on the ground," she says.

But on the ground around the country, there remain concerns, including among those caring for the vulnerable like rest home residents.

"Even now, nearly two months on there are still some issues in our members being able to access the PPE that they need," says Simon Wallace, CEO of the New Zealand Aged Care Association.

And those supporting the disabled agree.

"We do not have a national distribution system. What we do have is 20 distribution systems through each DHB. Access, quantities delivered and delivery times are still variable," says Garth Bennie, CEO of the New Zealand Disability Support Network.

A Waitemata DHB nurse caring for COVID-19 patients at St Margaret's Hospital and Rest Home told Newshub "staff used rubbish bags as foot covers".

In response, the DHB said senior managers there are not aware of issues being raised by staff, and that "PPE footwear is not required under the Ministry's guidelines".

Staff were provided with masks, gloves and gowns.

PPE - the issue not going away as a disjointed, unstable distribution system leaves many health staff still feeling unsafe.