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Call for national COVID-19 response framework

New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) media release, 24 April 2020

NZNO’s College of Emergency Nurses (CENNZ) and College of Critical Care Nurses (NZCCCN) are calling for a standardised national response framework for responding to COVID-19, because they say the country’s Ministry of Health and DHBs continue to lack consistency and consensus.

The colleges warn that the conflicting communications and highly variable guidelines are putting nurses’ and health care workers’ professional, ethical and physical safety at risk.

Sandy Richardson from the College of Emergency Nurses and Steve Kirby from The College of Critical Care Nurses say health care workers and kai mahi hauora are facing new and extremely challenging conditions which require different ways of working.

“They are physically interacting with the general public, assessing, caring for and remaining with patients throughout their health care journey,” Ms Richardson said.

“So one example of how a framework could help is around things like the need for separate physical placement of patients to minimise infection. This requires more staff, dedicated areas within each workplace, and increased time spent carrying out isolation procedures. 

“On top of the physical risks, nurses are having to provide an even higher level of emotional and social support to distressed patients unable to have the support of whānau. When they can’t provide that care, nurses face highly distressing ethical dilemmas which they can at times be held responsible for.”

Ms Richardson says a standardised framework is especially urgent as health care workers are facing triple wave of increased demand: ongoing COVID-19 cases; the move to rāhui level 3 which will see more people seeking attention for non-COVID-19 health problems; and the worsening health scenario that always comes with winter.

“Our members are dealing with very difficult situations without adequate guidance or support, and this is leading to heightened anxiety about the coming months, particularly around things like staffing levels.”

However, Ms Richardson says that while nursing staff are feeling apprehensive, this does not mean they want people in Aotearoa New Zealand to neglect their medical needs. 

“We worry that some people are afraid to come into hospitals, and are not getting the care they need. But, as things go back to normal and we get more patients coming in, staff may get overwhelmed without sufficient guidance.

“What will ensure we can look after those who need care, during COVID and going into winter, is the DHBs and the Government taking accountability and showing leadership by ensuring secure and consistent processes.

“That way, our staff will have the security and confidence they need to practise to the best of their ability, without being unfairly held responsible for circumstances beyond their control.”


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