Coronavirus: Auckland doctor threatened by bosses to stop wearing extra PPE or be stood down

Hospital bosses threatened to stand down a surgeon from the frontline if she didn't stop wearing extra personal protective equipment (PPE).

Dr Stephanie Ulmer, a general surgeon at Middlemore Hospital, was told her use of PPE was making other staff feel anxious.

However, she says hospitals should provide PPE to everyone coming into close contact with patients - and thinks the Ministry of Health guidelines around it aren't stringent enough.

"I believe we are treating our nurses and medical staff as a dispensable commodity at the moment, based on the fact that we are not providing protection," Dr Ulmer told Newshub.

She comes into close contact with patients often, frequently touching them or coming within 30cm of their face, so Ulmer bought her own PPE: gowns, gloves, and special N95 masks.

However, she was told by her boss to stop wearing it, because it was making other staff feel anxious. 

A meeting was then called to reprimand Dr Ulmer. Newshub has seen a copy of the meeting notes, which show her senior explaining incidents had been raised about inappropriate use of PPE, and that was causing anxiety amongst staff.

They told Dr Ulmer to follow PPE guidelines, and when she asked what the consequences would be if she didn't, her senior said they could stop her working on the frontline. 

"That was extremely distressing for me; I was absolutely incredulous about their response to this," Dr Ulmer said.

"We're putting our healthcare workforce at risk to develop the disease to pass it on to their close family members - that's not acceptable."

Counties Manakau District Health Board sent Newshub a statement saying the health and safety of staff and patients is of utmost importance, and it has sufficient gear for staff to use where appropriate.

ACT leader David Seymour said: "Surgeons and all medical staff should be allowed to protect themselves in this situation, particularly if they have immunocompromised or vulnerable people in their bubble".

The Health Ministry has set guidelines on when PPE gear should be used, and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says if health workers are sourcing PPE themselves, it's up to them if they use it.

But not, apparently, in the case of Dr Ulmer.