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Fears aged care staff were ‘stealing’ PPE

Victoria’s chief medical officer has defended the state’s PPE as reports emerge that Victoria’s supplies have fallen to alarmingly low levels.

Personal protective equipment was not given to aged care facilities over fears it was being stolen by staff, an email released by the hotel quarantine inquiry says.

It comes as reports emerge that Victoria’s supplies of N95 masks for health workers have fallen to alarmingly low levels during the coronavirus pandemic.

The email, written by deputy chief health officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen, stated the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) “cannot preposition (PPE) in facilities as people are stealing it”.

The Herald Sun reported the email was written on the same day the hotel quarantine program was announced and was among thousands of pages made public by the inquiry across the weekend.

The paper reported van Diemen was reflecting on problems of establishing infection control in aged care facilities in March.

She wrote “we need a supply, here ready to go” and noted the Federal Government had said it would reimburse states for PPE provided to aged care in outbreaks but fears over the equipment being taken meant the DHHS could not preposition it in facilities.

The Herald Sun reported van Diemen proposed a “needs assessment of what a facility should have to get them through first 24 hours of an outbreak”.

But Health Workers Union secretary Diana Asmar told the newspaper she was “not aware of a single Victorian aged care worker or HWU member facing a disciplinary meeting due to theft of PPE”.

Victorian health workers are reportedly still not always able to access all the adequate PPE they need, including high-level N95 masks, as fears supply and not safety is dictating access to PPE.

Victoria’s chief medical officer Andrew Wilson confirmed some workers had asked for masks but they were not deemed necessary.

“That has been something we review every week – we look at what’s happening in the rest of the world, what other countries are doing,” he told reporters.

“If everybody in our entire system used the mask, that would use a lot of masks.”

He said the state had used 900,000 masks in recent weeks and currently had 3.2 million in storage.

“We’ve been able to increase our supply of masks nearly 25 times more than we were using last year.

“We’re using a lot of N95 masks – every single person in our community who needs one, who has been advised to have one by us, by our guidance, has been supplied with one.

“We want to make sure that they are always feeling safe at work and that they understand that we’re doing everything we can to make sure there’s enough masks for us now and also into the future.”

Guidance about the use of PPE was always based on evidence and expert advice, he said, and it was important to be “very careful” about ensuring the long-term supply was sustainable.

Melbourne doctor Mukesh Haikerwal told the Today show that Victorian health workers “have not been listened to in the past”.

He said there was a big effort under way to deal with the problems around proper access to PPE, and the DHHS was making “stringent” efforts to have people fitted and tested for masks.

“We are now seeing a change in tone and a change in the provision of equipment,” Haikerwal said.

“You can’t continue to provide a service and leave your healthcare workers exposed.

“There is a need to make sure they get the best equipment, that it’s universal access to this equipment for healthcare workers.”

When asked if the PPE issues had been resolved, he said “until there’s actually people feeling safer, making sure they’ve got the equipment in their hands or on their faces, then we won’t be sure”.

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