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‘Get the flu jab, or wear a mask’ – Waikato hospitals get tough

One-News

Source: One News

Visitors and staff at Waikato hospitals who haven’t had flu jabs will be told to wear a mask during the flu season in a move by the District Health Board to keep its hospitals free of the virus.

With 400 New Zealanders killed by flu each year, it’s hoped the tough stance in Waikato will encourage more people to get the vaccination.

Waikato DHB chief executive Nigel Murray says the mask rule is to protect patients, who are quite vulnerable when they’re in a hospital.

The policy was in place for staff last year and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation disagrees with it.

“Staff in the hospital are not being given that choice. They are health professionals, they do understand infection control practices really well, and they will exercise that judgment very judiciously,” said Hilary Graham-Smith of the organisation.

Mr Murray says healthcare professionals should set an example, and they do have a choice to “get the flu vaccine, or wear a mask in our clinical areas”.

Ms Graham-Smith says it isn’t hard to put a mask on, but to wear one throughout a duty would be very uncomfortable and quite impractical.

“Communicating with patients is what we do. It’s a very important part of our work and if your face is covered up that’s really difficult.”

The flu season will officially begin when the medical officer declares it and it’s only then that the policy will kick in at Waikato Hospital.

Masks will be handed to visitors at hospital entrances and in key clinical areas.

“It will be based on an honour system for the public, and I think that’s going to work just fine. Nobody wants to come in to visit their loved ones and give them the flu by accident,” Mr Murray said.

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