System failing to protect primary care nurses against infection

Thousands of nurses on health’s frontline are being put at risk every minute of every day as they care for Australians during the COVID-19 crisis due to the Government’s failure to provide them with access to personal protective equipment (PPE).

“PPE for health care workers is vital as we fight to overcome this health emergency,” Australian College of Nursing CEO, Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN explained. “Yet nurses who do not work directly for a public hospital or general practice are being discriminated against when it comes to the roll-out of available stocks.

“The Australian Government has provided PPE to our Primary Health Care Networks for distribution around the country, but they are only allowed to provide this equipment to general practices. This completely ignores the thousands of nurses who provide care in the community outside a general practice and makes them exceptionally vulnerable to exposure and in turn exposing some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”

In Australia nurses work in every health care setting. In terms of delivery of primary care, this can include community-controlled health services, community clinics, in-home care, alcohol and other drugs (AOD) services, and mental health services.

“With Australians being asked to stay at home and avoid going to hospitals if possible, we need these dedicated nurses more than ever. It is appalling that they have been overlooked when it comes to provision of PPE,” Adjunct Professor Ward said. “Nurses have shared stories of having to try and purchase their own PPE or simply going without and hoping for the best. Some clinics have told me they will run out of PPE in the next 24 hours or so.

“Now more than ever, we need our nurses to be healthy and able to provide care. To deny them access to PPE is not only short-sighted in terms of workforce capacity but could cause a spike in infections that could have been avoided.

“When a nurse sees a patient, it is not possible for them to stay two metres apart. This means if a nurse without adequate PPE cares for a patient who later turns out to be a COVID carrier or have another infectious disease, they could potentially infect many others.”

ACN is calling for PPE supplies managed by Governments to be made available to all nurses working in primary care.

/Public Release. View in full here.