Delta outbreak: Nurses call for policy change as Auckland DHB sees hundreds of visitors a day, allegation of sex with patient

Nurses and health and safety representatives are calling for Auckland District Health Board to urgently change its visitor guidelines for alert level four. 

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation and hospital health and safety representatives say Auckland DHB's policy should be changed to align with other DHBs which are only allowing visitors on compassionate grounds. Earlier this week Newshub revealed nurses were concerned over the policy which allowed two visitors, one at a time.  

Nurses at Auckland DHB say they are seeing hundreds of visitors a day and there are issues with compliance. It comes amid allegations a visitor had sex with a patient in hospital. 

Auckland DHB health and safety representative Benjamin Basevi told Newshub nurses need a safe working environment. 

"What we are asking them [Auckland DHB] to do is cease the visitor policy they currently have in place for alert level four and replace it with a policy that truly reflects the level four requirements as is in most DHBs around the country."

At North Shore and Waitakere Hospitals, visitors are "not permitted" except on "strict compassionate grounds" - for example if someone is critically ill or dying.

It's the same at Middlemore Hospital, where "no visiting is permitted except in essential and compassionate circumstances". 

Basevi said Auckland DHB's current guidelines have a multitude of issues including too many visitors coming into the hospital, poor compliance, an inadequate screening process and a lack of protection for nurses. 

"There are multiple faults with the current screening process in terms of set up, worker and visitor flow, training and guides for screeners, mask training, advice to security stationed at the screening points, lack of daily briefing and shift handovers and no separation of visitors and workers entering the building."

He said a lack of communication within the DHB also means people can "game the system" and enter multiple times a day from different points. 

Basevi also revealed there has been an instance of a visitor having sex with a patient in a shared room. 

"There is intimidation of staff by patients, different rules given to visitors about the duration of visits, there are visitors mingling with other staff and patients, visitors having sex with patients, and no one is monitoring visitor time limits."

He said the issues put a lot of pressure on staff and are causing anxiety and fear for patients. 

While Basevi conceded Auckland DHB is doing a lot right when it comes to PPE, he said the number of visitors staff are interacting with is hazardous. 

"They also have to go home to their families as well and at level four the level of visiting we have doesn't match up and it's not right."

"The Auckland DHB has got a level three visiting policy that they have put into level four. "

The Auckland DHB reviewed its policy over the weekend after substantial complaints from nurses.

During a press conference on Thursday Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health has made contact with the DHB.

"Auckland DHB's approach to visiting is consistent with our national policy and we have encouraged... the NZNO to engage with the DHB to resolve the concerns and issues. 

"At the same time, our team is working with people from across the DHBs to review and revise the policies in line with the Delta outbreak. 

When asked about allegations a visitor had sex with a patient, Bloomfield said that is a "high-risk activity" during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"I think it is a high-risk activity potentially however I don't know any of the details about that interaction."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern chimed in saying, "regardless of the COVID status that kind of thing shouldn't generally be part of visiting hours". 

In a statement to Newshub Auckland DHB said its current approach aims to balance the risks of the spread of COVID-19 with the need for whānau to be there to support our patients. 

"The safety of our staff, patients and visitors is a priority for us and we have undertaken a full risk assessment for this policy and are comfortable that any risks are well managed. We have visitor screening at our entrances to check for symptoms of COVID-19 and ensure the policy is complied with.

"We have had ongoing communication with NZNO regarding our current approach to visitors and will be involving health and safety representatives in further decisions being made by our COVID-19 Incident Management Team as appropriate." 

Director of provider services Dr Mike Shepherd said whānau are an important part of patients' recovery process. 

"We have put in place guidance and processes to support whānau access to patients that significantly reduces any risk of the spread of COVID-19 infection, while also ensuring patients are able to be supported in person by members of their whānau. 

"The safety of our staff, patients and visitors is a priority for us and this is a decision that we have made with much consideration, including a full risk assessment. 

"We are making changes to our guidance and improving our processes following feedback from our staff and their union representatives. Our current approach is aligned with national guidance on hospital visitors."

Last week Kerri Nuku Kaiwhakahaere of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) told Newshub the visitor policy is "absolutely farcical".

"There is no logic in this. The concerns from our members are one of safety - safety for themselves, safety from our patients."