The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) has taken legal action through the Employment Relations Authority after Auckland District Health Board (ADHB) refused to meet with it for mediation on Friday over Auckland Hospital’s visiting policy.
NZNO Industrial Adviser David Wait says the policy places staff, patients and communities at risk of 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.
"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."
NZNO and ADHB lawyers met with the Authority by Zoom on Saturday morning and the parties were directed to engage in urgent mediation. Wait says NZNO proposed that the mediation take place on Sunday (12 September), given the urgency and seriousness of the situation, but ADHB has refused to meet before Monday afternoon.
"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.
"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."
On Sunday (5 September) a union health and safety representatives issued a Provisional Improvement Notice to ADHB over its "free for all" visitor policy but Wait says the voices of workers have largely been ignored.
Worksafe has also issued an Improvement Notice, directing ADHB to engage with its workers on the policy, but Wait says not even this has made ADHB modify the policy in a way that would resolve the issues in any significant way.
"ADHB needs to look at the evidence, adopt best practice and listen to its staff. It’s staggering that we should have to appeal to a higher authority just to get them to talk to us about what is clearly a sensible and appropriate health and safety measure at a time of serious public danger."