Confusion over the provision of PPE putting NSW nurses and midwives at risk

Inadequate access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and conflicting infection prevention advice is continuing to put frontline NSW nurses and midwives working amid COVID-19 at risk, according to the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA).

The union has joined fellow leading health organisations in demanding improved protocols and better Work Health and Safety Standards for all health workers responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite NSW Health issuing an ‘amber alert’ last month for public health workers to wear masks within 1.5 metres of all patients, NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes says access to PPE to protect safety remains a significant concern.

“At a minimum, nurses and other health workers in settings with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients should be protected with P2/N95 masks and fit tested to ensure they properly seal to their face,” Mr Holmes said.

A recent survey of 1,270 nurses and midwives in NSW conducted by the NSWNMA revealed almost half of those required to wear P2/N95 masks had not been fit tested to limit their exposure from the wrong size mask.

For public hospital nurses, just one-in-four working in a COVID-19 ward and one-in-three working in an intensive care unit said they had undergone a fit test.

A further 41% of respondents reported they were worried about exposure at work due to interaction with potentially contagious patients who might be asymptomatic or not tell the truth during screening.

“For six months, frontline nurses and midwives have been going to work not knowing what will unfold, if they’ll be at risk, or worse, be exposed because of inadequate protection,” Mr Holmes said.

“Many nurses and midwives are still dealing with ongoing issues regarding access to adequate PPE and conflicting infection prevention advice. This cannot continue.”

“We’re still hearing of ICU nurses being told fit testing is not needed and despite being told stocks are ‘plentiful’, they are guarded under lock and key, or rationed out, with nurses left feeling guilty if they approach managers for additional supplies.”

Mr Holmes said the union stood in solidarity with health colleagues calling on federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to increase the use of P2/N95 masks during the care of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients.

“Here in NSW, all health workers deserve to be acknowledged and deserve recognition for their ongoing sacrifices,” he said.

“At the end of the day, our public sector nurses just want to be paid fairly and be safe at work. Is that really too much to ask?” Mr Holmes said, referring to the current public sector wage freeze debate currently being examined in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission this week.

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