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DHB fires four whistleblowers

PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

‘It’s affecting patient safety’
Allegations of bullying, and unclean surgical instruments, legal action under way

GIANINA SCHWANECKE
[email protected]

Four staff at Wairarapa Hospital who complained to management about improper sterilisation of surgical implements and alleged workplace bullying were fired last week.

Now, the matter is headed to the Employment Relations Authority, and the Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has been notified.

The staff members’ lawyer Jills Angus Burney told the Times-Age on Tuesday she could not speak to matters that were before the authority but was disappointed it had reached this stage.

“[My clients’] families are angry.”

She said there had been a series of complaints about inappropriate staff conduct and questions around professional standards relating to a staff member in a leadership position, still employed by the Wairarapa District Health Board.

“It’s affecting patient safety, which is at the heart of this.”

Wairarapa District Health Board chief executive Dale Oliff said it had a policy of not commenting on employment relations issues.

“We have supportive processes in place for staff and act in good faith, following expert advice,” she said.

“This DHB will always act in the best interests of our patients.

“We align our service with contemporary, quality practice and we will continue to take any and all actions necessary to ensure we protect the public.”

The dismissed staff worked at the hospital’s Allied Health sterilisation unit [Central Sterile Services Department, CSSD], which oversees the sterilisation process.

The Times-Age understands CSSD and nursing staff first raised concerns about improperly sterilised surgical instruments in 2018.

It is understood that since January this year, nine processing errors of this kind resulted in improperly sterilised instruments being discovered by theatre staff, either during the pre-surgery check or during the operation.

It is understood the staff also complained of cumulative workplace bullying and inappropriate conduct in the department, which led to them initially being rostered off due to “incompatibility” with another team member.

While they were rostered off, the errors and incidents of inappropriate behaviour were said to have continued, despite staff from the Hutt District Health Board being brought in to cover the sterilisation work.

A Health Ministry spokesperson told the Times-Age by email that the Director-General [Ashley Bloomfield] had been notified of the issue.

“At this stage, we will be making no further comment.’

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