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Health Workers Must Be Protected In An Epidemic

22 June 2006

Health Workers Must Be Protected In An Epidemic

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation has warned that proposals in a Bill before Parliament aimed at preparing for an epidemic may expose health professionals to even greater risks.

“While NZNO understands the need to relax statutory requirements to facilitate disease management and impose duties during an epidemic, protecting health workers is critical,” NZNO CEO Geoff Annals told a select committee considering the Law Reform (Epidemic Preparedness) Bill today.

Geoff Annals said the way to protect the health workforce was to include a clause stating that nothing in the Act would override the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

“We wouldn’t expect a firefighter to run into a burning building, because of the risk of the building collapsing”, he said. “Nurses and health workers should not be exposed to an epidemic without adequate personal protective equipment.”

Geoff Annals said the health workforce was already in crisis, with significant shortages of registered nurses.

“NZNO questions whether New Zealand has sufficient workforce resources to respond during an epidemic, whether infection control procedures are consistent and whether there are adequate personal protective equipment stocks, workplace hygiene and patient care resources available,”he said.

NZNO considers it is practical for nurses to be empowered to sign death certificates.

“This responsibility must come with strict rules and criteria and adequate and funded education, training and guidelines are needed”, said Geoff Annals.

NZNO is opposed to forcing staff to take annual leave if there is an epidemic notice in place.

“Employers should have a plan in place for an epidemic, including a process for engaging with and communicating with staff about their work and leave expectations,” he said.


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