Two Waitakere Hospital nurses testing positive for COVID-19 'not acceptable' - nurses union

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation says two more Auckland nurses testing positive for COVID-19 is creating a crisis because staff feel unsafe and over-stretched.

The nurses are from Waitakere Hospital and both were asymptomatic. Seven nurses in total from the hospital now have the virus, and all are linked to the St Margaret's Rest Home cluster.

The nurses union kaiwhakahaere says it "is not acceptable".

"This is a crisis situation. It's leaving our staff really anxious and wanting to get answers," Kerri Nuku says.

A total of 42 staff from the hospital are currently off work, and it's shortages like these the union says is making it hard to cope.

"Shortages on resources and this put the whole system under enormous stress," Nuku says.

The Waitematā District Health Board (DHB) says "staffing requirements are reviewed and adjusted on each shift to ensure there are appropriate resources to meet patients' needs".

Both nurses who tested positive had been off work and at home in isolation. Both had been feeling fine and they only got the positive results just days before they were due to return to work at the hospital.

In a statement to Newshub, the Health Ministry says some DHBs - but not all - have been offering tests to some healthcare workers who don't have any symptoms but who may have come into contact with the virus. 

The latest Ministry figures provided to Newshub show 173 health workers have the virus, including 53 nurses and five nursing students. 

An infectious diseases specialist from Otago University says we must pay particular attention to our health care workers. 

"This is the whole issue in Italy and New York. If you get a lot of spread going on among that group and you start seeing them out of action, the whole health care system falls over," Professor Steve Chambers says.

He added it's possible more asymptomatic cases will appear.

"Quite a lot depends on the immune state of the person. It may well be that if you're relatively young and fit the virus may amplify in your nose, but you don't actually get sick."

Waitematā DHB says further cases in clusters can't be ruled out.

"Strong precautionary measures remain in place and there is no evidence of recent infection or spread of the disease," it says.

It is also investigating how an initial group of three nurses at Waitakere hospital got infected. 

But the Nurses Organisation wants the investigation to include input from WorkSafe and ACC. It also wants issues highlighted by Newshub regarding access to PPE and staff rostering to be thoroughly investigated.

"How do we make staff feel safe when there seems to be a lack of clarity, lack of commitment and a lack of accountability," Nuku says.

The DHB says all staff on the COVID-19 ward at Waitakere Hospital had PPE and its investigation into how the initial group of staff got the virus will be released at the end of the week.