Support for health workers making personal sacrifices during COVID-19 pandemic

By Jessica Tyson

Sleeping in a car in the garage is just one of the ways that some nurses are making a personal sacrifice to protect their whanau from the risk of infection with COVID-19.

So in a bid to support nurses and other health workers, New Zealand Nurses' Organisation kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku has created a response package, He Kete Tapuhi Ora.

"We’ve drafted He Kete Tapuhi Ora to reflect the concerns and anxieties that colleagues and myself hear daily from members, which primarily include difficult working conditions and critically needed personal protective equipment and financial support,” says Nuku.

The package outlines nurses' concerns and a list of requests to keep them safe during the pandemic, including a place to stay if they risk infecting whanau at home and more pay.

"In this time of confusion and anxiety, the He Kete Tapuhi Ora response package will give our frontline workers reassurance, certainty, and hope in the COVID-19 crisis and rāhui, particularly when they are making daily personal and whānau sacrifices for us all."

Nuku says the seriousness of the virus, coupled with projected community transmissions and hospitalisation rates, places extraordinary pressure on the already stretched health-care system.

As a result, New Zealand needs a sustainable nursing workforce to respond to community testing and cope with the unpredictable surges in cases.

"Likewise, we need to focus on all factors that enable health care workers to do their job and to stay physically and emotionally well, as well as accounting for the often conflicting duties they have to their whānau, says Nuku.

"Unless we address health and wellbeing as a whole, we will continue to see our frontline workers go into financial hardship, burn out, or have no choice but to leave work for their whānau, or leave whānau for their work."

The full ‘He Kete Tapuhi Ora’ response package is as follows:

  1. Consistent use of personal protective equipment (PPE) across all health sectors following a precautionary principle.
  2. Provision for additional pay recognition, acknowledging their invaluable contribution as an essential health care worker. These provisions are above those in current collective employment agreements.
  3. Provision to retention of full income.
  4. Priority testing for COVID-19;
  5. Free general practice consultations, additional wellbeing and psychosocial support packages (including EPA counselling, cultural support and professional supervision).
  6. Provisions for sick leave and annual leave in current collective employment agreements to be upheld and improved for current circumstances.
  7. Vulnerable worker assessment for pre-existing conditions of workers and their whānau.
  8. Nurses working in high-risk COVID-19 work areas are provided with accommodation, if needed, to protect themselves or their whānau.
  9. Job security and reassurance that no health care workers will be disciplined for speaking out about health and safety issues when using appropriate channels.
  10. Free travel to and from work, including public transport or other forms where necessary.
  11. When the time comes for us to work long hours, employers to provide cooked meals available in the workplace while on duty.
  12. Childcare or provision for childcare support to enable workers to be on duty.
  13. Employers laundering of uniforms in the workplace to reduce the risk of transmission to the whānau of staff.