Health Services Union call for COVID testing change

Illawarra Mercury, 27 December 2021

With more than 2000 health staff furloughed [on unpaid leave] across NSW, the government has eased isolation restrictions for healthcare workers who have been identified as close contacts.

This means healthcare workers deemed a close contact of a COVID-positive person now only have to isolate for seven days as opposed to 14 days.

The change came a little late for one Wollongong healthcare worker. Wishing to remain anonymous, the nurse said her family spent Christmas isolated and in separate rooms from each other.

Her 10 and 11-year-old kids unwrapped their presents alone, while she had to send her mother home to isolate away from the family to reduce her risk as she is compromised.

"My daughter who has just turned 10 said her worst Christmas present was not being able to spend the day with her family," she said.

"[On Sunday] my husband and son had to go to get tested, but sat in the queue to only be told the site was closing and they will not be tested today.

"Frustrating part for us is they were trying to get tested due to being close contacts and being symptomatic not just so they can travel."

Health Services Union (HSU) state secretary Gerard Hayes said easing the restrictions was not enough as there was still too much pressure on the workforce.

"We are seeing 2000 people furloughing on any given day. We can't have a position where we consistently have 2000 people off and trying to maintain health workforce," Mr Hayes said.

"I think the solution is we review what is a close contact and what is a casual contact.

"The thing with furloughing, is there's a very good chance that 70-80 per cent of those people will not be positive any way. I think we got to move towards RAT [Rapid antigen testing] as opposed to the PCR testing, and then we can actually maintain a workforce.

"We always want to make sure that we minimise risk. We clearly can't eliminate it. I think that is the way forward into 2022."