Managed isolation nurses 'frustrated and angry' at '20-hour' working days, staff shortages

Twenty nurses have been pulled away from other jobs around New Zealand to staff Auckland's managed isolation facilities.

Nurses say they're concerned about serious staff shortages and burnouts, and claim some are expected to work 20-hour shifts.

One registered nurse, who asked to remain anonymous, said while she takes pride in protecting Kiwis in isolation hotels, she is now disillusioned and fed up.

"I know many other nurses who are feeling despondent, despairing, frustrated and angry," she told Newshub.

She said the situation changed for nurses after the Northern Regions District Health Board took over employing staff from healthcare agency Geneva. Pay was slashed and nurses started leaving.

The nurse said shortages are widespread across Auckland's isolation hotels.

"I would describe them as being critically low and dangerous," she said.

She added those on the job are sometimes asked to work extra hours.

"It can amount to 20 hours straight, which is very unsafe."

The Northern Regions DHB told Newshub it's "not aware" of anyone working such hours.

It said 84 percent of the workforce is now employed by the DHB, and it has an "excellent mix" of staff with hospital and community experience.

Around 20 nurses from other regions have been brought in. Hospital nurses are also being used to fill the gaps.

"It's a concern because the public hospitals are already short-staffed," the nurse said.

The DHB said it has three dedicated swabbing teams to support nurses working at hotels.

But the nurse said on-duty nurses will soon be expected to conduct these tests as well as their other daily duties.

Another managed isolation nurse confirmed what her colleague told Newshub, saying dedicated swabbing teams will soon be phased out.

She said you'll often do "at least 60 swabs a day" and "standards will slip". However, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said he has "no concerns". 

"No, I don't think it's a problem," he said on Wednesday.

Dr Bloomfield said he's relying on the assurances of the DHB.  

"What I do know is that if there are any issues, they would be both open to hearing those and acting promptly on any of those issues."

The second managed isolation nurse believes Dr Bloomfield has been misinformed.

"I am very, very disappointed that that has happened and Ashley Bloomfield has been given that impression, because it is categorically untrue," she said.

She extended an invitation to Dr Bloomfield, asking him to come to Auckland without informing the DHB and talk to those on the ground.

Minister in charge of managed isolation facilities Megan Woods has visited a number of Auckland facilities. She said she's been assured there is no nursing shortage. 

"Auckland's MIQs require 175 healthcare staff, and we have 175 healthcare staff working across the 18 managed isolation and quarantine facilities to provide 24 hour, 7 days a week COVID response and normal healthcare."