Hospital slammed for exposing staff to virus risk


It was good luck rather than good management that the COVID-19 cluster at Ipswich Hospital did not get out of control, LNP Shadow Health Minister Ros Bates told The Courier-Mail this morning.

Following the claim that wards were not being properly cleaned at the hospital and staff were put on "partial quarantine" at the height of the cluster in September, the Minister said the government was "putting lives and livelihoods at risk with these slapdash hospital cleaning protocols".

"As a nurse, I can only imagine the added pressure on staff to do their jobs while protecting themselves against infection knowing that there were issues with hospital cleaning," she said.

"The Health Minister needs to come clean and apologise to the Ipswich community about this debacle. The Ipswich Hospital has been at the centre of a major outbreak that saw staff infected with COVID and that could have been prevented."

One of the nation's leading COVID-19 experts, Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology Raina MacIntyre, has also slammed the hospital for its "highly inappropriate" quarantine protocols and a lack of cleaners that put "everyone at risk".

The hospital is still struggling to recruit enough cleaners to fully staff certain wards every day in a situation that has been slammed as "farcical and dangerous".

Staff assessed as low-risk contacts of an infectious person were told to isolate at home but still attend work, under a partial quarantine arrangement that was overturned after just a week following union intervention.

"The health service realised it was a bad idea in discussion with the union and agreed to end the process," a whistleblower told The Courier-Mail.

The partial quarantine was based on a traffic light system where staff members were assessed as either Red (full quarantine), Yellow (possible contact, partial quarantine), or Green (all clear).

Ipswich Hospital, where seven healthcare workers tested positive in September, has been criticised by one of Australia’s leading COVID-19 experts as having “highly inappropriate” quarantine protocols. Photo: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled
Ipswich Hospital, where seven healthcare workers tested positive in September, has been criticised by one of Australia’s leading COVID-19 experts as having “highly inappropriate” quarantine protocols. Photo: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled

"For a week many were allowed to come to work for their full shift and told to isolate when they got home. It was farcical and dangerous and it only came to an end when the union kicked up a stink," the source claimed.

It's understood partial quarantine was given to staff considered low-risk contacts of an infectious person or those not who did not meet the criteria for full isolation under Communicable Diseases Network Australia guidelines.

Prof MacIntyre said if a hospital ward does not have a cleaner "then that puts everyone at risk".

The expert questioned the safety of partial quarantine.

"Say a (hospital worker) is exposed to someone with COVID on Monday. They go home Monday night and quarantine but come back to work Tuesday. That is highly inappropriate and places everyone in the hospital at risk. They need to quarantine for two weeks," Prof MacIntyre said.

When the traffic light system was abruptly ended at the hospital some staff that had been classified as "Yellow" or partial risk were suddenly given the all clear, the source said.

They also claimed that currently on some days certain wards were operating without a cleaner.

"In a pandemic that is ludicrous. People are milling around everywhere coming and going and the COVID-10 cleaning procedures are strict. For some wards to have no cleaning staff is not acceptable" the source said.

The revelation comes just weeks after The Courier-Mail reported that an untrained orderly had to perform CPR on a dying patient in the emergency department of the same hospital because a nurse became exhausted. The story sparked Queensland Health to investigate staffing levels.

The Australian Workers' Union, on behalf of workers employed at Ipswich Hospital, presented a letter to The West Moreton Health executive about two weeks ago slamming their handling of operations staff at the hospital, it can also be revealed.

The union represents backbone workers like orderlies, cleaners, kitchen and food services staff.

West Moreton Health has responded to the Australian Workers' Union since receiving their letter and requested a meeting to discuss their concerns.

"West Moreton Health values its operational staff who play an integral role in providing safe, quality care to the people of West Moreton," a spokeswoman said.

In response to the partial quarantining of staff, she said: "Our recent cautious approach, while it did have operational impacts, was a key factor in West Moreton Health's rapid response and successful management of the COVID-19 outbreak. The safety and wellbeing of our staff is our utmost priority at all times."

The health service also said COVID-19 management required increased cleaning and West Moreton was in process of recruiting more cleaners.

The Ipswich Hospital, west of Brisbane, was at the centre of a Covid-19 cluster Photo: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled.
The Ipswich Hospital, west of Brisbane, was at the centre of a Covid-19 cluster Photo: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled.

The AWU letter to the bosses states that "delegates and members have not forgotten the divisive and coercive culture which existed in Operational Services which led to the Hotel Services Review by Mark Brady in 2018 and 2019 and the physical and mental toll that this culture had taken on many individual members and their families".

The Brady Report then listed many recommendations relating to "divisiveness, favouritism, conflict of interest, aggressive behaviour, poor work management, poor training, poor training of supervisors and a requirement to transform culture" and the union says commitments made during the investigation have been forgotten.

Ian Balke was the manager of operational services at Ipswich Hospital but has not worked at the hospital for five years.

"Technically I am still employed there but I walked out with two other workers as we couldn't stand the set-up any longer," he claimed.

"The operations staff were often treated like second-class citizens, there was a terrible working culture and not good for anyone's mental health," he said.

In the missive sent to the executive the union said: "All workers deserve to be treated with respect, dignity and fairness regardless of their "status" in the health system. All workers deserve to be able to return home to their families after their shift without stress, anxiety or fear."

"The constant battle to ensure that senior management comply with their obligations to fill vacant positions within the statutory time frames, backfill mandatory operational positions and address ... behaviour in a just and transparent way is indicative of how the Service views their operational staff," the union letter said.





Originally published as Hospital slammed for exposing staff to virus risk