PPE fit testing audit shows nurses exposed to COVID-19  

Published: 27 April 2021 

An audit conducted by Queensland Health (QH) has confirmed the fears of the Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union (QNMU) – that systemic flaws in the fit testing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) continue to potentially expose frontline nurses to COVID-19.

The findings of the audit, presented to a hearing before the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) today, revealed widespread inconsistencies and deficiencies in the roll-out of PPE fit testing protocols and practices currently being used at a number of the state’s Hospital and Health Services (HHSs).

As the QNMU validates the data with its members, QNMU Secretary Beth Mohle welcomes the agreement with QH to urgently develop and implement an action plan to rectify the problems uncovered in the audit.

“The data has clearly demonstrated what the QNMU has long feared, that there are huge inconsistencies in the PPE fit testing programs across our public health system,” Ms Mohle said today.

“Now that the problems have been identified, we are keen to focus on fixing the problems by working with QH to ensure that nurses working with COVID positive patients and others suspected of having the virus, are kept safe and well. 

“We also welcome the announcement by the Health Minister this morning that QH intends to issue a direction requiring all staff working with COVID patients to be fit tested, and fit checked at the start of each shift, and subject to daily surveillance. 

“In addition we understand all staff working with COVID patients must be fully vaccinated (that is they have had both vaccinations) by 10 May.

“We will continue to work with all HHSs to deliver on the government’s directive.”

During today’s hearing the QIRC Commissioner recommended that the HHSs identified as being in the top priority category are to prepare action plans for PPE fit testing regime by 4 May and then provide these to the QNMU for feedback and discussion within the following week. The remaining HHSs are to develop action plans to be provided by 7 May.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with all HHSs to develop action plans to keep staff and Queenslanders safe. 

“This is a particularly risky time now, over 12 months into the pandemic. So many are exhausted and continuing to deal with uncertainty and heavy workloads. This is a time when mistakes can be made, so we must all focus on implementing appropriate strategies to mitigate this high risk.” 

“There must also be accountability and transparency in the HHS plans so we have confidence that we are keeping nurses and our communities safe.”

Ms Mohle said the QNMU remains committed to working with QH to ensure the introduction of best practices in relation to COVID safety to keep frontline staff and their communities safe.  

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