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Ministry defends exemption process after ICU nurse goes unpaid

Author
Local Democracy Reporting,
Publish Date
Fri, 13 May 2022, 10:48am
Waimakariri MP Matt Doocey and ICU nurse Carlos Molina look over medical exemption documents during a meeting in Rangiora. (Photo / Adam Burns)
Waimakariri MP Matt Doocey and ICU nurse Carlos Molina look over medical exemption documents during a meeting in Rangiora. (Photo / Adam Burns)

Ministry defends exemption process after ICU nurse goes unpaid

Author
Local Democracy Reporting,
Publish Date
Fri, 13 May 2022, 10:48am

The Ministry of Health believes it is not to blame for processing delays involving a Rangiora ICU nurse, who was stood down for several weeks unpaid after catching Covid-19.

Carlos Molina was left in a desperate situation as he waited eight weeks, with no income, for a medical exemption to be authorised by the Ministry.

The Christchurch Hospital ICU nurse, who remains unboosted, caught Covid-19 in early March, on the eve of the mandatory cut-off date for receiving a booster.

Just as he was set to return to work, he was told he was being stood down until an exemption had been finalised.

Those who have been infected are unable to receive a vaccine for three months after catching the virus.

Under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Order 2021, practising nurses must be fully vaccinated, including receiving a booster within 6 months of having had their second jab.

Despite being informed the process would take about five to six working days, Molina only returned to work last week.

"There was no means of getting feedback on your case, because your file doesn't have a number.

"Every week I was being told I was missing something on the application...it was very inefficient."

In the interim, he was forced to dip into savings which had been set aside for a family trip to visit his elderly mother in El Salvador.

He admits the situation also took a toll on his mental health.

"I had a lot of stress and sleepless nights," he said.

"It was hard having to tell the mother of my kids that I couldn't have them this week because I had no money to feed them."

As he continued to wait, he received support through Work and Income (WINZ).

A Ministry spokesperson said it did not receive a medical exemption application for Molina until April 6.

The exemption was granted on April 20.

"There was a delay because the doctor hadn't sighted the positive test result and the applicant needs to verify a positive result before granting a temporary medical exemption application."

The ministry said there are two options for obtaining a three-month medical exemption, comprising of an individual application via their medical or nurse practitioner, or verified through their employer as a group application.

"DHBs continue to encourage all staff eligible for a booster to receive their vaccination and are making it as easy as possible for them to do so."

The ministry would not confirm how many ICU nurses had been stood down awaiting a medical exemption.

"It's important that medical exemptions are made as easy as possible to get if health professionals have had Covid-19."

Waimakariri MP Matt Doocey described the situation as "appalling" and called for the ministry to take some responsibility.

"In the middle of a pandemic where we desperately need to hang on to our specialist health professionals, I was appalled this was allowed to happen.

"We all know the pressures on people at the moment, to not be able to provide for yourself and your family is hugely concerning."

Molina was currently working with union representatives to finalise back payments.

- Adam Burns, LDR