Medical staff working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic are being abused and accused of spreading the deadly disease, the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association has revealed.
Addressing reporters on Sunday, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he was “appalled” to hear reports of nurses and doctors being verbally and physically abused by members of the public.
“I think every right-minded member of our community would be appalled that our doctors and nurses are being targets for these people who don't seem to get it,” he said.
Mr Hazzard offered an extremely blunt reminder for the “very small section of the community” who had instigated such abuse towards healthcare workers.
“That very same doctor, that very same nurse, when you see that person in a uniform in a hospital, and they might be actually putting a tube down your throat to keep you alive,” he said.
“You will wish you hadn't actually done what you did previously.”
Pregnant midwife abused while claiming free McDonald’s coffee
Brett Holmes, the general secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association, said there had been a number of reports across the state from nurses who had been subjected to abuse of adverse comments from a small group of people within the community.
He said in some cases nurses were coughed or spat on.
“That’s pretty astonishing,” Mr Holmes told Yahoo News Australia.
In one instance, he said a pregnant midwife out in western Sydney was claiming her free coffee from McDonald’s and was abused while waiting in line.
“The person behind them decided that they needed to tell the midwife to stop spreading the (COVID-19) disease around,” he said.
“This is just one example of many.”
Mr Holmes said in another suburb of western Sydney, healthcare workers wearing their scrubs were abused when they ducked out for coffee, with other reports claiming they were rejected services.
One nurse who needed to go to the bank, “did all the right things”, yet was treated negatively.
“Others abused for being on public transport out at Westmead. We’ve had reports of nurses being harassed outside of work whilst they are in their scrubs,” Mr Holmes said.
He added other nurses who were heading home and stopped off to get petrol were then met with other customers throwing their jumpers around their heads and started talking about COVID-19.
“Just getting that really nasty treatment in the community when they’re trying to go around doing their business, observing social distancing and trying to get along with their life, while... going into hospitals and not necessarily being anywhere near COVID-19,” Mr Holmes said.
“But copping abuse for being in their uniform.”
Medical staff told to change at work amid abuse
Mr Holmes said a number of the 15 health districts in NSW had now advised healthcare workers not to commute to work in their scrubs, but rather change once they get to work.
The problem is there are not mass changing rooms which allow for workers to do so in most hospitals, Mr Holmes said, although hospitals are required to provide a locker.
He did say there are some places within a hospital like intensive care and operating theatres where it is the norm for workers to change into hospital-laundered scrubs – but that’s not for every ward.
Mr Holmes said it was only a small group within the community who would even think to abuse a healthcare worker, but it still had an impact and there was a legitimate concern for the safety of workers who were already under enough stress.
“Knowing they have to go to work every day and come home, look after their elderly – it’s usually the nurse in the family who has the responsibility for their elderly [family members],” he said.
“They’ve got children, some of them are pregnant. Of course no one wants to get COVID-19 and no one wants to transmit COVID-19 to anyone else.”
Mr Holmes said nurses and midwives were “acutely aware” of potential infection and the risks.
“The community should be well and truly assured that they’re not at risk by nurses travelling too and from work,” he said.
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