Risk of Infection for WA Health Workers

Tuesday 31 Mar 2020


31st March 2020


HSUWA calls for:

  • All health workers at risk of contracting the COVID-19 in their workplace to be provided with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) 
  • Clarity about supplies of PPE in WA Health supported by facts 
  • Given the uncertainty of supplies, clarity on how PPE distribution will work and be consistently applied across the state’s health and social care services
  • Training provided in the proper use of PPE urgently, where needed
  • Far better communication amongst stakeholders across the WA Health sector, including hospitals, community health, aged care and disabilities
  • Working from home arrangements for those is non-clinical roles across WA Health be urgently expedited to ensure the safety of those supporting the function of the sector

The Health Services Union WA warns the state could see a spike in infected health workers if adequate PPE and better information isn’t provided.

Since the COVID-19 entered community transmission stage, health workers are increasingly concerned about access to PPE, despite being on the front line.

Our members across hospitals, community health, aged care and disability services have legitimate concerns of getting infected and infecting their families.

HSUWA Secretary Naomi McCrae said safety of our health workers must be the number one priority for the health services in Western Australia.

Quotes from Secretary Naomi McCrae 

“COVID-19 means our health workers are facing the greatest challenge of their lives in providing care and support for those in need across WA,” she said.

“It’s vital that frontline workers in health and social care are supported with testing and the provision of the right PPE for everyone in risk areas.

“Staff are worried about whether there is enough PPE available for what is ahead. We know that the rates of infection of COVID-19 for health workers in Italy has been around one in 10.

“We know supplies are limited but the various health services are not uniform in their messages about what is available, for who and when.

“Right now, the health system needs clear and transparent communication, we see media conferences each day on updates for the public, unfortunately this isn’t happening enough inside our hospitals and health services. The various stakeholders in health are not working together in a co-ordinated way and this needs to change.

“Staff are confused and want to know why they don’t have appropriate PPE and if they don’t what should they be doing?

“Health authorities need to answer these questions. Do we have enough PPE for health workers and for how long? Who has priority if supplies are limited and who decides this? When will more arrive and will health workers be trained properly to use it? 

“Health workers need reassurance and should be trusted to be given the facts. We are trusting these courageous people to save those that fall critically ill from the virus. They need to be protected,” Ms McCrae said. 

The union has had a more than 50 per cent increase in calls from members in the past week with at least 80 per cent related to COVID-19.

What our members in WA Health are saying

  • We have clerical staff at the front desk of two major tertiary hospitals who are dealing with patients directly with no masks.
  • Essential health workers may have to halt lifesaving work to protect themselves as no PPE is available to them. For example, breast screening staff have raised concerns there is no access to protective gear.
  • Our members are getting mixed messages on PPE, for example physiotherapists in both the public and private sector have been instructed not to wear gloves or masks as it may frighten patients.
  • Security Officers at non COVID-19 EDs have been told not to wear masks as they will scare patients.
  • In mental health our members report extremely limited PPE supplies with internal disputes between wards over access to PPE. Further that rushed plans for managing the crisis have not involved any consultation or input from on the ground clinicians.
  • We have had shambolic scenes in private pathology, as the private companies lay off or stand down hundreds of workers, who are now needed in the public sector, but no clear path or transition has been put in pace. This is across the Perth Metro area and involves the biggest private pathology companies.
  • Many health workers in critical supporting roles are able to work from home but have been unable to undertake this transition as the logistics overwhelm a decentralised health service. Decisions about who can do what are left to middle management who are not provided with consistent and clear information.
  • There are impediments to working from home for members who are otherwise ready.
  • Mental health programs are being shut down because of a lack of telehealth access.
  • Private hospital workers are being told to access annual leave because of elective surgery cancellations.

HSUWA represents more than 18,000 people employed in WA’s public hospitals and health services, including for example administrative staff, clerks, technicians, physiotherapists, pharmacists, medical imaging technologists, clinical psychologists, social workers, medical scientists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, dieticians, podiatrists, radiation therapists, mental health workers, and other health professionals. All play a vital role in our health system.


2020-03-27 Press release HSUWA PPE Website.pdf

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