Concern Lockdown Restrictions May Risk Frontline Health Staff Well-Being
Sam Hazledine, the doctor who founded MedWorld, which successfully lobbied the World Medical Association to amend the modern-day Hippocratic Oath, is concerned for the well-being of doctors and nurses as some hospitals cancel leave and close their doors to new doctors.
“Rising healthcare needs place a huge strain on an already struggling workforce” says Dr Hazledine. “Getting frontline staff to ‘work harder and longer’ can’t be seen as a viable solution to this crisis. We understand DHBs are doing their best in an already tough situation, but what happens when doctors and nurses get sick, are we just going to make their colleagues work more? The well-being of our key medical workers needs to be front of mind now more than ever”.
MedWorld says it’s received notification that a couple of DHBs have moved to cancel the employment of all newly-engaged, incoming doctors due to concerns their arrival may expose hospital and health environments to Covid-19 risk. He says while not wishing to underplay their concerns, he believes the issue warrants further debate and discussion.
“The Ministry of Health and District Health Boards are doing an amazing job coping with this crisis to date and grappling with unprecedented concerns over health and safety in hospitals and healthcare facilities” says MedWorld founder and Managing Director Dr Sam Hazledine. “However cancelling the employment of incoming doctors and nurses may not be the best solution. They will be sorely-needed to support current medical staff from burn-out and provide vital patient treatment and care in the weeks and months to come. New Zealand hospitals may well need every highly-trained doctor and nurse they can get hold of”.
Dr Hazledine says he’s confident all DHBs and the Ministry of Health want only the best for their frontline staff; he’s therefore suggesting a uniform approach be discussed and adopted.
“This isn’t about naming those DHBs who have decided to cancel these hires” says Dr Hazledine. “That is neither constructive or helpful when they are already stretched dealing with an unprecedented medical crisis. It’s more about ensuring we have a cohesive, national, evidence-based approach to allow appropriate nationwide mobilisation of doctors to meet our needs”.
He is encouraging the Ministry of Health and DHBs look at Australia’s current Covid-19 approach to medical staffing.
“Over there, state governments are classifying locum medical practitioners as essential workers and allowing them ‘essential traveller status’, not only encouraging their deployment but allowing them freedom of movement inter-state. We perhaps need to react similarly here to allow appropriate nationwide mobilisation of doctors to meet our needs”.
MedRecruit, Australasia’s largest medical staffing company, says some, like Western Australia’s Medical Workforce Unit, are reviewing each interstate visiting doctor deployment, based on a risk matrix that accounts for the type of work they’ve completed in the previous 4 weeks, the location of this work and the vulnerability of the population now requiring their service. After considering the potential risks, it has decided a period of self-isolation may be required prior to the incoming doctor starting work in any WA health facility. Dr Hazledine says a similar approach would be valuable here to allay DHB concerns over Covid-19 risk.
“If a 14-day stand-down period is genuinely warranted, then that must happen” he says. “But cancelling doctor and nurse employment altogether may be a step too far when its likely they will be much needed”.
Dr Hazledine, himself a graduate New Zealand-trained doctor, has concerns that many DHBs now appear to be turning down frontline requests for annual leave or cancelling already-approved leave.
“While I can fully understand the short-term need for having all hands on deck in the weeks to come, we must be careful to not see this as a long-term solution” he says. “Doctors and nurses on the front line are already struggling and decisions like this will only make things worse. If they ask for leave, believe me, they need it. We cannot run the risk of having them burn out completely. I encourage DHBs to approach leave requests with kindness”.