Nurses on Waitakere Hospital's COVID ward say management put patients at risk

Two nurses from Waitakere Hospital's COVID ward say they feel bullied and not listened to by DHB management - and as a result patients and staff were put at risk.

Three nurses have now tested positive and Newshub has been told nurses requested that if they worked in the COVID ward that they not also work in wards that were free of infection.

However their concerns were ignored.

She's taking a risk speaking out, but says it's necessary as she and her colleagues have reached breaking point.

"We all feel like we've been let down, we've been battered. In the beginning, we felt like soldiers and actually were ready to go to work and take things head-on. But after a series of events, we feel like our mojo has been crushed," one Waitakere Hospital nurse told Newshub.

Waitakere Hospital has a COVID ward after patients from St Margarets rest home were transferred there.

Staff requested nurses rostered to work on the COVID ward only work there. But the nurse says that request was "ignored by management".

Her colleague corroborates her story, saying their concerns should have been acted on.

"We do feel bullied, we feel that we're actually really powerless," he says.

"We haven't been listened to. We felt that we had legitimate concerns at the beginning."

Three nurses have tested positive for COVID-19. Another 35 staff - who had contact with the trio - have been told to leave work and go into isolation.

"And so that certainly will leave a big gap and a crisis potentially," says NZ Nurses Organisation Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku.

The COVID-positive nurses had been working on the COVID ward but then were told to work in the older adults acute rehabilitation ward.

Patients on the rehab ward are now considered at risk, and families have been ringing the ward angry their loved ones could catch the virus.

"As a result of that, the nurses had to unhook the phone because they were just getting abuse from family members," the first nurse says.

But staff say from the beginning, patient safety was their priority.

Twenty patients on the previously virus-free rehab ward have undergone testing.

"The key message to management is listen to your frontline staff, and hear your frontline staff," the other nurse says.

In a statement on Friday, the DHB said as soon as it found out about the staff testing positive, it "moved quickly to respond" and took "all appropriate actions to minimise any risks".

The DHB says nurses working on the COVID ward as well as COVID-free wards was part of standard policy.

However, that policy has just been changed, meaning from today staff on the covid ward will not work in others wards as well. 

"We've changed that at this point in light of what has occurred. The DHB has also set up a review with independent experts on the panel," says Dr Jonathan Christiansen, the chief medical officer at Waitemata DHB.

On the COVID ward, staff say they were exposed to other risks regarding personal protective equipment (PPE).

Specially-fitted white N95 masks ran out, meaning staff had to resort to ill-fitting green ones.

"They were expected to just go ahead and use them with no fitting, no testing and no training was done," the first nurse says.

"That's significant when we have heard for many, many weeks that the availability of quality PPE gear - that there is no problem with it," Nuku says.

But problems at Waitakere are exactly what staff say exist.

Newshub just heard that the DHB has now apologised to family members of those patients on the COVID-free ward.

Tests have been done on those 20 patients. While initial tests have come back negative, more testing is required.

In relation to the N95 issue, the DHB says staff did not require N95s - and regular surgical masks were suitable for that clinical situation on the COVID ward

The chief medical officer says it's "disappointing to hear staff feel bullied" and "we have been reaching out to staff, and it's disappointing they have not contacted the executive team".