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Playing it safe at Medplus

Nov. 22, 2020

Here in New Zealand we are all counting our blessings, it is great to be in Level 1, but COVID 19 is omnipresent and we cannot become blasé. Hopefully the recent outbreaks have given us a reality check.

At Medplus we will potentially be looking after Jett Park workers, medical staff from the COVID wards at our hospitals, port workers, customs and immigration staff and airline crew. Not only are we looking after these front-line people, but we are also looking after their friends, families, neighbours and close contacts – but mostly we will not know it. There are only a few degrees of separation between us all.

The problem with COVID in an environment like New Zealand is that we have a low expectation that we are going to encounter it. By the time a community outbreak is announced it may be too late.

The first-place sick people come to is a medical centre. If they are unaware that they are a contact of a case, they will assume their respiratory symptoms are just a cold or the flu and can be blissfully ignorant that they are highly contagious and dangerously so. In countries like Italy, COVID was thought to be spread particularly through doctors waiting rooms during the first wave, when no one realised what they were up against.

Levels of COVID infection end up being much greater in medical professionals than in the community overall. Given that we do not have a shortage of PPE, and we have a way of preventing our staff from risking infection, why on earth would we not do everything in our power to prevent our staff getting the virus?

The Medical Profession have a duty of care not to do any harm. Therefore, we are continuing to take practical common-sense precautions to prevent spread of COVID at Medplus. This is to protect fellow patients (especially those who have other medical problems) and staff. Everyone needs confidence that they can come to Medplus for medical care safely.

Before the pandemic, medical staff were used to being regularly coughed all over, spluttered on, and got used to catching every cough and cold going. It was part of the job (an unpleasant one for sure). Pre COVID, we used to just continue to work through most mild infections we caught. Now the rules of engagement have changed for everyone. It is no longer socially acceptable to be out and about if you are coughing or sneezing – you are supposed to stay at home and isolate until better (regardless of negative COVID swab results). So now medical staff must try and prevent getting every circulating virus, otherwise our health system will be very short staffed. We have experienced high levels of staff absence for entirely this reason and it makes operating at normal capacity very difficult.

Our staff therefore need protection from all viruses, and that is one of the reasons why we segregate our patients into Red and Green streams. The Red stream is for coughs, colds, runny noses and sore throats and health professionals need to see them wearing PPE and in a distinct area that is washed down frequently. It does not matter if you have had your cough for decades, or if you call it "expectorating" rather than "coughing", any cough and any runny nose counts, even if it isn't the issue you are coming in about. So, for example, if you are worried that you have abdominal pain, but you also have a cold, you will need to be seen in the Red Clinic. Green Stream patients do not have any respiratory symptoms and are hopefully of lesser risk and can be seen in the main building. However, we will always wear a mask to see you and ask you to wear one whilst in the building too. Mask wearing is only optional for under 12-year olds. We keep a list of all patients in the building so contact tracing is easy, but please have any escorts scanned in at the door.

We try to deliver our safety messages in a positive, friendly way and frequently email them out and post them online as well as have posters at the door. We do not intend to surprise or upset you by our safety protocols, and we are certainly not trying to scold you if we do ask you to mask up or re book you for a Red Clinic appointment.

Most of our community are very cooperative and many express appreciation for our safety protocols. Unfortunately, those who are less enamoured tend to get upset with the messenger, and it has been rough at times for our frontline receptionists. So please, help us out and understand that wearing a mask, or seeing a doctor in the Red Clinic is not a big deal, but is something that we, and your fellow patients are very grateful for.

Many thanks for your understanding.