Coronavirus: Auckland MIQ facility staff do their own COVID-19 health checks amid 'severe' nurse shortage

Newshub can reveal staff at all 18 of Auckland's managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) hotels have been warned of a "severe" shortage of nurses.

Emails from management to staff warn the shortages are putting "considerable strain on nursing staff" and the issue is "compromising their ability" to do their jobs. Staff at the Crowne Plaza were even incorrectly advised to "conduct their own health checks" while nurses are unable to.

Part of the problem's been caused by nurses being offered less pay, after being given new contracts and work conditions.

Des Gorman, a professor at Auckland University's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, told Newshub it represents "an obvious compromise of the border".

"Given how important it is for us to avoid lockdowns and to maintain our current status, the border can't be compromised," he said.

On Sunday, management emailed staff. Their email spoke of "severe shortages of nurses across MIQF" sites. On Monday and Tuesday, shortages were still reported, with reports it was "compromising [nurses'] ability to conduct daily tasks".

The situation at the Crowne Plaza has been of particular concern. 

Newshub understands that just last week, concerns were raised that due to nursing shortages at the Crowne Plaza, nurses were unable to carry out daily health checks of all staff members arriving for work.

That meant the paperwork and thermometer was left out for staff to do themselves in an honesty box-style system.

Newshub understands staff complained there were "no instructions" on using the thermometer, and staff were "winging it". There was also "no sanitiser" or wipes to clean the kit in between turns using it.

The DHB confirmed the issue of staff doing their own health checks at the Crowne Plaza. It says a staff member gave others "incorrect" advice that DIY checks were OK, and it's made pretty clear that such an honesty box-style system is not good enough. 

It says staff have since been told that health checks can only be done by a nurse or health care assistant. 

Prof Gorman, an expert in health systems and workforces, says daily checks must be done by trained experts. 

"I understand that the temperature gun was left there without instructions, without the ability to clean it. That's a completely unacceptable state of affairs."

Part of the issue is because the DHBs have taken over the employment of the nurses. Previously, the sites have been staffed by agency, with nurses working a bit like contractors. 

Nurses Society director David Wills, who represents around 100 nurses at the sites, says many staff have recently left. 

"Many others have decided that they don't wish to work for DHBs, that it doesn't suit them. I can't put a figure on it, but I know that there are significant numbers," he said.

The DHB also said it's "actively recruiting" more nurses, but is also using agency nurses "to ensure all shifts are adequately staffed".

Willis says recruitment by DHBs has been challenging because of a reduced hourly rate and different contract conditions.

"One reason is the pay difference, but there are other reasons. People work for agencies because it is casual work, it gives flexibility and they don't necessarily wish to work full-time in a dedicated workforce."

So concerns about an over-run yet critical workforce - the workforce specifically tasked with keeping all of us safe.

Northern Region DHBs responds

The health component of Auckland's managed isolation and quarantine sites is run by the Northern Region DHBs.

A spokesperson confirmed Newshub's report that last week staff at one facility had been "incorrectly" doing their own health checks.

"A staff member at a managed isolation facility incorrectly advised other colleagues that they could do their own health checks. Staff at this facility have since been advised of the correct process and that health checks can only be carried out by a nurse or health care assistant who is rostered on specifically to carry out these checks," a spokesperson told Newshub.

Newshub asked how the DHB was managing shortages at the facilities.

The DHB said it was "actively recruiting more staff"  and still using some agency nurses to "ensure all shifts are adequately staffed."

It did not respond to a question about whether the shortages had meant nurses were under pressure and struggling to do their jobs properly.