A doctor on the Victorian Government’s healthcare worker infections taskforce says the Box Hill Hospital cluster that led to an outbreak across Melbourne’s north highlights ongoing weaknesses in infection control standards in hospitals.
The northern suburbs outbreak that has delayed confirmation of Melbourne’s next step out of lockdown has been traced back to the Box Hill Hospital outbreak, which began in early October.
One of the staff later worked on another ward before the onset of their symptoms. They then gave the virus to a patient and a nurse.
The nurse brought it home to her household at Heidelberg Heights in Melbourne’s north and infected seven others.
From that home, the virus spread to East Preston Islamic College, Croxton School at Northcote, and an aged care home.
Nine months since Victoria’s first case of the virus, doctors have warned that not enough has been done to stop the virus spreading through hospitals and out into the community.
Issues raised by a doctor with the ABC when the Box Hill Hospital outbreak first emerged included ongoing staff movement between wards and the need to manage the hospital’s air circulation to address the danger of airborne transmission.
They also said workers on the hospital’s COVID-19 ward were only being tested for coronavirus once a week.
At the time, Eastern Health said it had made changes to rosters and procedures to minimise employees’ movements across sites and wards and had expanded tea room spaces to reduce crowding.
Senior doctor Neela Janakiramanan, who is a member of the Victorian Government’s Healthcare Worker Infection Prevention and Wellbeing Taskforce, said the system was lacking.
Dr Janakiramanan said improved staff testing, ventilation systems and personal protective equipment (PPE) had still not been fully implemented by hospitals.
“I don’t have faith in the system because it has too many flaws in it,” she said.
“I’m not going to target any single specific hospital because I can tell you these are issues across the board,” she said.
“The guidelines are not being followed, staff on the ground are identifying concerns and taking them to their direct line managers, to senior executives at hospitals and those concerns are being ignored.”
The Government has committed itself to fit testing N95 masks across the state’s COVID-19 wards by the end of October.
Department of Health and Human Services deputy secretary of case contact and outbreak management, Euan Wallace, has defended the system.
“The provision of PPE to healthcare workers in our health services, the guidance for that, who should be wearing what PPE, what type of masks and when, that guidance is ahead of the Commonwealth standards,” he said.
The president of the Australian Medical Association Victoria, Julian Rait, said some hospitals had shown “exemplary” management of the pandemic.
Dr Rait called on the Premier to beef up the powers of the Government agency, Safer Care Victoria, to enforce the guidelines.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of imagineering going on, where people believe that things are being done but in fact they’re not,” he said.
“I’ve always argued that Safer Care Victoria is a toothless tiger, it means well and has all the right thoughts, but it doesn’t really have the appropriate authority.”
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Coronavirus, Disease outbreak, Box Hill Hospital, Northern Suburbs
World news – US – Box Hill Hospital COVID ward the source of northern suburbs outbreak