The head of the Territory’s nurse’s union says strike action remains an option if the Gunner Government does not reverse its decision to scrap rapid antigen COVID-19 testing for staff at the Howard Springs quarantine facility.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation NT secretary Cath Hatcher said the Territory’s nurses have been extremely concerned about the government replacing the nasal antigen tests with saliva-only PCR tests which take much longer to return COVID testing results.
She said that could put Territorians at risk of a community outbreak from workers leaving the quarantine facility without knowing if they are positive for coronavirus.
“[Nurses at the facility] are highly concerned with the changes that there’s going to be a breach in quarantine like there has been over 25 breaches around Australia,” Ms Hatcher told Mix 104.9.
“You’ve got … four or 500 staff on a daily basis having a PCR saliva test [with] the result not back until the beginning of their next shift. In the meantime, they have gone back to their families, their friends, their communities, dropped kids at school and picked them up … and you’ve put the community at risk.”
Ms Hatcher said she would be meeting with Health Minister Natasha Fyles tomorrow to further discuss the issue and would make a decision on possible strike action after that.
“I have a meeting with Minister Fyles tomorrow afternoon and if I don’t get any good results, we will look at perhaps industrial action, which could be striking” she said.
Results from the nasal antigen test are usually returned within 15 minutes, while results from the PCR test could take between 12 and 24 hours to be returned.
Ms Fyles has previously rejected allegations the government was scrapping the antigen rapid tests due to their costs.
She has said the decision was made with medical advice, “based on clinical information”.
However, some epidemiologists have stated the rapid antigen tests are preferred for those coming and going form quarantine facilities.
Acting chief medical officer Dr Charles Pain said the antigen testing was not being used elsewhere in the country in quarantine facilities.
“As has been recommended to AHPPC by the Public Health Advisory network, the gold standard is PCR, so we wouldn’t go back to a standard which is not as good,” he said.
Opposition CLP Leader Lia Finocchiaro said the government needed to listen to frontline health staff and bring back the antigen testing.
“Ever since the Chief Minister confirmed he was scrapping rapid antigen testing when he booted AUSMAT from Howard Springs, there have been numerous well-respected epidemiologists who have expressed their confusion and concern over this decision,” Ms Finocchiaro said.
“The last thing we want is medical staff at our international quarantine facility feeling unsafe and unsupported.”
The CLP said not using both tests could only be an effort to cut costs.