Two nurses working at a private hospital accepting residents from Victoria’s beleaguered aged care system have tested positive for Covid-19, with a senior doctor describing the mass transportation of elderly residents to hospitals as a “catastrophe waiting to happen”.
The Victorian premier in July responded to coronavirus outbreaks in aged care homes throughout the state by saying he had “no confidence in infection control” in some of the facilities and that residents from those homes would be moved into private and public hospitals.
There are now 122 aged care facilities with active cases of Covid-19 and 138 deaths have been liked to aged care. Meanwhile, more than a quarter of the 322 new cases of the virus throughout Victoria announced on Monday were infections in health care workers.
A spokesman from Knox Private hospital in Wantirna, 25km east of Melbourne, confirmed two nurses caring for aged care residents transported to the hospital had tested positive.
“The origin of the transmission has not been determined,” the spokesman said. “Contact tracing identified three other staff members who had close contact with one of the affected individuals. These staff members were all asymptomatic, were isolated and have subsequently returned negative Covid-19 results. We continue to contact trace, retest and support our staff.”
Guardian Australia has been told by senior doctors that all nurses at the hospital had Covid-19 tests before patients from aged care were accepted, and all nurses at that time returned a negative result. Knox Private is said to have among the more stringent protocols regarding infection control and personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We regularly Covid test all asymptomatic nursing staff caring for Covid patients,” the spokesman said. “Like other health services treating Covid patients, we have robust safety and infection control protocols in place.”
Dr Mark Rudelic, a senior specialist working at a Melbourne public hospital, said he was concerned by the decision to move aged care residents to multiple hospitals throughout Melbourne because of the risk of infection.
“I’m worried it was a very poor decision to move them to multiple different hospitals rather than picking a couple of designated hospitals where you could strictly monitor infection control and only accept and treat Covid-19 residents,” he said.
“But we have sent them all over Melbourne now. You have private hospitals in the north, south-east and west who have all taken patients from aged care homes, and the potential for spreading the disease then increases when you have to worry about infection control in all of those hospitals.
“There is potential for spread through all the private hospitals. I fear this move could have been a catastrophic mistake.”
Guardian Australia has repeatedly asked the Victorian government for a list of all hospitals with active cases of health worker infections but is yet to receive a response.
On Monday, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), which advocates on behalf of more than 18,000 physicians and 8,000 trainee physicians across Australia and New Zealand, released findings from a member survey that found a significant proportion were resorting to buying their own protective equipment, and almost half had limited or no access to N95-grade masks.
The survey was completed between 30 July and 3 August and 677 responses were received.
The RACP president, respiratory physician Prof John Wilson, said hospitals must provide staff with the correct PPE to do their jobs safely.
“The results of this survey show that in some public and private settings, this isn’t happening,” he said. “I suspect that a similar survey of aged care facilities will be just as revealing.
“We have serious concerns about the safety of our members on the frontline. While they are putting their lives on the line to tackle this pandemic, our government must be doing everything they can to provide them with sufficient protective equipment.”
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