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Nurses' union takes legal action against Auckland DHB over hospital visitor policy

The nurses’ union is taking legal action against the Auckland District Health Board after accusing the DHB of refusing to meet with them for mediation over Auckland City Hospital’s visitor policy. 

Auckland City Hospital. Source: 1 NEWS

Earlier, under Alert Level 4, the DHB allowed each patient to have two visitors per day. That was recently changed to one person for a maximum of two hours.

But the New Zealand Nurses Organisation said the policy still placed staff, patients, and communities at risk of contracting Covid-19. 

"What we want is for the policy to be brought into line with those of other Auckland DHBs where visitor access is restricted to compassionate grounds and only when absolutely necessary during an outbreak of the Delta variant that is by no means fully controlled,” NZNO industrial adviser David Wait said. 

"It makes no sense at all that one of our busiest hospitals in a region that is in Level 4 lockdown continues to allow members of the community to come and go, especially considering the impact Covid transmission would have on the DHB’s ability to safely provide services in this short-staffed environment."

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Legal action is being taken through the Employment Relations Authority. The NZNO had sought a meeting on Friday with ADHB. 

NZNO and ADHB lawyers met with the Authority over Zoom on Saturday morning. They were told to engage in urgent mediation, Wait said.

He said the NZNO then proposed that the mediation take place on Sunday, September 12, given the urgency and seriousness of the situation. 

However, ADHB has refused to meet before Monday afternoon, according to Wait. 

"We have a hearing set with the Authority on Thursday afternoon if we cannot reach agreement, but that’s five days away, allowing further time for unnecessary close contacts to occur.

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"We urge ADHB to engage with us without delay and to stop putting the health and safety of our members and the public at risk,” Wait said. 

On September 5, a union health and safety representative issued a Provisional Improvement Notice to ADHB over its visitor policy. 

Worksafe also issued a compliance order against ADHB for failing to engage with health workers.

Wait said the views of workers still continue to largely be ignored, however. 

In a two-sentence statement, ADHB incident controller Alex Pimm said: "We believe that whānau are an important part of a patient’s care, treatment and recovery and have, therefore, enabled access to whānau for patients in our care.

"We believe we have done this in a way that minimises risk to other people on our sites." 

On Thursday, 1News reported a formal complaint was laid after reports that a visitor had sex with a patient at Auckland Hospital. 

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Auckland DHB is making changes to its visitor policy after concerns from both patients and nurses over 'unsafe' numbers of people entering hospitals. Source: 1 NEWS

Earlier on Saturday, RNZ reported nurses at Auckland City Hospital were having to police visitors who broke bubble rules and didn’t wear masks around the wards.