A new Covid visitor ban at some NSW hospitals sparks fears pregnant women will be forced to give birth without their partner or support person

HealthA new Covid visitor ban at some NSW hospitals sparks fears pregnant women will be forced to give birth without their partner or support person
Hundreds of health workers have been forced to isolate after being deemed close contacts of an unvaccinated student nurse who worked across two Sydney hospitals while infectious with Covid-19, wreaking havoc on staffing levels.
As hospitals in greater Sydney were placed on red alert due to the latest Covid outbreak, restrictions on visitors triggered alarm among expectant mothers.
Guardian Australia understands that more than 600 health professionals across two hospitals have been deemed close contacts.
More than 500 staff at Royal North Shore hospital, and more than 120 staff at Fairfield hospital, are now isolating and unable to work after being identified as a close contact of the 24-year-old student nurse who worked from 24-28 June across the two hospitals while infectious.
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Nurses, administration staff and other healthcare workers are among the isolating workers.
The situation is so severe at Royal North Shore hospital, where five wards are affected, that health authorities are understood to be trying to move nursing staff from nearby hospitals to help fill the shortfall in services.
The number of isolating close contacts related to the student nurse has swelled since Wednesday, when about 100 initial staff and patients were sent into isolation after a positive result being returned late on Tuesday.
Brett Holmes, general secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, said the isolation orders have put a large burden on an already strained workforce.
Taking 500 staff out of Royal North Shore has a massive impact on the workloads of our members, the union chief said.
Our health system was already at extraordinary high activity, and there was minimum staffing available because casual staff who mightve backfilled absences are being absorbed at vaccination and testing centres.
Clearly the hospital has done the sensible thing and stopped all but emergency surgery, and has diverted patients to other facilities where possible, but nurses were already strained and have experienced for some time shortages in their normal working day.
The necessary steps that have been taken [isolation orders] certainly leave a large burden on the staff, Holmes said.
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In a statement, NSW Health confirmed that there is restricted movement on five wards at Royal North Shore renal vascular, neurology, cardiology, a general medical ward and a surgical ward.
These wards are not accepting any new patients and are closed to visitors. All staff working in these wards are wearing an enhanced level of personal protective equipment, the statement said.
For hospitals on red alert, visitors are only permitted by exception and must meet certain conditions, including seeking medical treatment, obtaining medical supplies, fulfilling carers responsibilities, end of life visits and attending an appointment to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.
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The new rules have created confusion about whether women giving birth can be accompanied by a support person.
Western Sydney Health district has set up an online exemption form, and used its social media channels to warn that partners of women giving birth are not allowed to enter hospitals in the district without gaining an exemption.
The strict controls in western Sydney follow the listing of a string of exposure sites across the area, including the SummitCare Baulkham Hillsaged care facility outbreak. Infected residents have been transferred to Westmead hospital, which is inside the health district.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, Western Sydney Health district said for those who are pregnant and are due to give birth at a WSLHD facility, please fill out the exemption form and our team will reply to you as soon as possible.
Exemptions will be made available in extenuating circumstances only with a centralised process in place, the post said.
Western Sydney Healths post triggered hundreds of comments in response.
You are setting birthing mothers up for birth trauma, and postnatal depression, one user wrote.
Another user said: You cant ask a mother to birth alone leaving the father/partner of that child to stay home and watch on bloody zoom. What a joke.
NSW Health was contacted for clarification regarding birthing visits.
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