Coronavirus: Middlemore Hospital asks staff to decontaminate, reuse PPE

A memo suggests some New Zealand hospitals are concerned about PPE supplies for COVID-19 front line workers.

Despite the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield continuing to reassure there is plenty of stock and supplies of PPE in the country, health care organisations are preparing for the worst.

Newshub has obtained a message to all staff at Middlemore Hospital which encourages workers to decontaminate and then recycle their PPE to be used again. 

Some of the items staff are encouraged to put in recycle bins include N95 masks, safety glasses, goggles and visors. 

Act Leader David Seymour says this is "totally unacceptable".

"Anyone who saw that memo would say they're washing it off and reusing it."

In the United States, where more than 2300 people died today, masks are being decontaminated and reused, but the Health Ministry's Director General of Health says that should not be happening here. 

"That would certainly not be our policy and as far as I know, that is not happening.”

But the memo to Middlemore staff says it is happening. Kit is being decontaminated, and Middlemore Hospital confirmed to Newshub that 'the reprocessing of some of these items is to ensure we have plenty in reserve in the unlikely event that stocks are exhausted. We see this as a prudent precaution'. 

A memo to staff at Waikato Hospital, which was obtained by Newshub, suggests their bosses are worried about kit being used inappropriately, and not in line with current Ministry guidelines for doctors and nurses. The guidelines say you should only use PPE when dealing with a possible or confirmed COVID-19 patient.  

The memo states the "current rate of PPE use is disproportionate with COVID-19 patient numbers and may reflect inappropriate use and stockpiling".

But the DHB told Newshub "this shows PPE is highly available to staff".

A DHB spokesperson also said it has "increased supply chain capacity in response to this high usage to ensure full availability in line with our policy for PPE to be provided to all staff". 

World opinion on the use of face masks is currently shifting as new research suggests microdroplets from sneezing, and even talking, can remain in the air.  

Several countries like the Czech Republic have made masks compulsory and Americans are also being advised to wear them outside. 

In New Zealand, the public is able to decide for themselves whether to wear a mask but Dr Sophie Febery, a Methven GP and Masks4All Founder says it should be made compulsory

She says even a home-made mask or bandana would help.

"I'm really worried that when we come down from level 4 lockdown to a lower level, asymptomatic people out there will go and continue spreading this disease and it will either force us back into lockdown or kill people."

In Christchurch today, Newshub spoke to numerous people out shopping, most of whom were wearing masks like resident Cecelia Garcia, who has asthma.

"We don't know if we're talking to somebody who is infected," she told Newshub.

Dr Bloomfield says he is monitoring overseas evidence on the use of masks in public settings and if the Ministry decides they do serve a purpose "we will definitely move in that direction."