Mask-up when visiting Tokoroa Hospital
Visitors to Waikato hospitals who haven’t had their flu jab will be met with blue masks.
The new hardline stance, an extension of the staff policy which came into effect last flu season, will now make it mandatory for visitors to wear a mask if they haven’t vaccinated against influenza.
But the move has riled the nurses’ union, who say members feel coerced and discriminated against.
But Waikato District Health Board chief executive Nigel Murray makes no apologies, saying healthcare workers need to set an example.
The policy includes staff and visitors to Tokoroa, Waikato, Thames, Te Kuiti and Taumarunui hospitals and will take effect when flu season is declared in the Waikato.
The decision will be made by the medical officer of health, but last year’s flu season was declared mid-july and lasted until late September.
The masks, estimated to cost $3000 to cover the season, will be supplied at the entrances of each hospital and ward and will operate on an ‘‘honour system’’.
Proof of vaccination is not required, but people are expected to wear them if they haven’t had their shot.
Murray said the visitor policy came about after feedback from staff.
‘‘Influenza is a potentially serious viral infection that’s much worse than a cold and can be severe enough to require hospital treatment.
‘‘Around 400 people die each year in New Zealand from influenza,’’ he said.
‘‘As healthcare workers it is our responsibility to protect ourselves and our patients and set an example to others who may not be informed as we are about the risk and impact of influenza. We need to protect vulnerable patients from catching influenza while in our care.’’
In 2014, 53 per cent of DHB staff opted to have the free flu vaccine. Last year, the first year of the policy, more than 80 per cent of staff were vaccinated and Murray said this year’s uptake is similar.
DHB director nursing and midwifery Sue Hayward said they also considered feedback from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO).
Waikato DHB clinical nurse manager infection, prevention and control Vicki Parry, said they will supply $3000 worth of masks at the entrance of each Waikato hospital, including Tokoroa.