An increasing number of St John crew are being exposed to the risk of Covid-19 infection from people who have not been truthful about their health conditions.
The Herald understands that in one case last weekend, a St John crew were treating a person who claimed to have not been exposed to the virus just as a call came in from health authorities confirming the patient had a positive Covid-19 test result.
A St John paramedic, who spoke to the Herald on the condition of anonymity, said many front-line crew were fearful of their safety because “so many people are just outright lying” about their exposure to the virus.
Currently, St John has 93 frontline staff in self-isolation due to community contact with Covid-19, and these paramedics will remain stood down until they return a negative test.
A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said St John have advised their staff in Auckland to use the full airborne PPE for all responses.
“This is an additional precautionary measure as New Zealand is in alert level 4 and most cases have been reported in Auckland,” she said.
“St John have advised that for the remainder of the country, its ambulance personnel are to follow the Ministry of Health guidelines.”
Dan Ohs, St John deputy chief executive ambulance operations, is appealing to the public to be upfront if they or anyone in their household have been exposed to, have symptoms or have tested positive for Covid-19.
Ambulance officers are reporting regular instances of patients and those in their households not providing accurate answers to Covid-19 screening questions.
“St John has made the decision that all frontline ambulance officers in the wider
Auckland region will now be required to wear full airborne PPE, including gowns, eye
protection, gloves, and N95 masks, to all routine call outs to keep them safe,” Ohs said.
For the rest of New Zealand, ambulance crews will continue to wear regular PPE but will wear full airborne PPE in instances where a patient or someone in their household has symptoms or may have been exposed to Covid-19.
“We understand some people may fear that they will not get an ambulance response in
these circumstances, but St John wants to reassure the public that ambulance crews continue to respond to all emergencies, at all alert levels,” Ohs said.
“However, in order to respond safely, we are asking patients and their support persons to be upfront about whether they’ve been exposed to the virus.”
Ohs said St John ambulance officers are trained and experienced in infection control practice, and deal with infectious diseases all year round.
“To limit the risk of infection and to protect our people and the public, frontline staff routinely wear Ministry of Health recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves when attending all patients, and change these between patients,” he said.
“They are also pausing before entering a scene to ask screening questions to determine the appropriate level of PPE to be worn.”
Ohs said these are challenging times but St Johns remain confident it can continue to provide a safe and timely service to the public “as crews are informed appropriately”.
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