Six elderly patients treated on 'presumption' of having coronavirus after nurses work in both virus-free and COVID-19 wards

Newshub can reveal six patients at Waitakere Hospital are now considered close contacts, and are being treated in isolation on the presumption they have the virus. 

Waitematā DHB says it's apologised to families of patients on the ward and it's planning to change its rosters for nursing staff. 

It comes after three nurses at the hospital tested positive for the virus. Colleagues of the nurses that tested positive told Newshub they requested to management that if they worked in the COVID-19 ward that they shouldn't also work in wards that were free of infection. However, their concerns were ignored.

As a result, staff worked on the COVID-19 ward one day - which is Wing A in the Muriwai Ward - and then on the Older Adults Rehabilitation Ward, or Wing B, the next day. Now six elderly patients in the previously virus-free ward are considered close contacts.


Chief medical officer for Waitematā DHB Dr Jonathan Christiansen says there are plans to care for these patients.

"They will be managed in strict isolation on the presumption they have COVID," Dr Christiansen says.

The DHB says it had regional clinical backing that such a rostering system was safe, but it's now changing its policy so nurses working on the COVID ward work exclusively there. 

Auckland University Associate Professor Mark Thomas is an infectious diseases physician at Auckland Hospital and says he's not aware of what type of pressures managers at Waitakere could have been under, but it's clear the DHB's original policy was problematic. 

"I can imagine the sort of things that might have led them to make that decision, but it was obviously an unfortunate decision, and so yes it's proven to be wrong," Thomas says.

Capital and Coast and Hutt DHBs say staff who care for COVID-19 patients "are not involved in the care of non-COVID cases".

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Thomas says the Health Ministry should have detailed advice and protocols that apply to all hospitals.

"Over many years the Ministry of Health has tended to run down a lot of its abilities to deal with this sort of situation and hasn't put as much effort into supporting public health."

The Waitematā DHB says it's called the affected families. 

"All those calls to families were made to explain the situation and to apologise that their loved ones were put in that situation," Dr Christiansen says

But at this point, there has been no apology for putting staff in that situation, something that NZ Nurses Organisation Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku believes should happen.

"Staff deserve an apology from the management and we need to see there are constructive ways moving forward. That it's not just lip service but action in the right direction," Nuku says.

Dr Christiansen says "it's disappointing" staff haven't raised issues with him or other management. But nurses have told Newshub they raised concerns with their managers over many weeks.

*An earlier version of this story said the six patients were being treated as probable cases. The six patients are being treated on the presumption of having the virus but the DHB says they are "close contacts" and not probable cases.