A Rockhampton nurse who tested positive of COVID-19 is the victim of a political witch-hunt, according to her union.
Queensland Health suspended the nurse after she worked two shifts at an aged care home while waiting for a COVID test result.
The department also referred the nurse to the state’s corruption watchdog.
However, an investigation has found management failures by Queensland Health were responsible for the nurse returning to work while infectious.
The Nurses’ Professional Association (NPAQ), which represents the nurse, is calling on the Health Minister to apologise.
Timeline of Rockhampton nurse with COVID-19
The nurse self-isolated for two weeks after returning from overseas.
In early May, she returned to work for five days at the North Rockhampton Nursing Centre (NRNC), despite having a sore throat.
She took the next two days off, visiting her GP, who told her she didn’t need a COVID test, but she had one anyway.
The nurse contacted the Central Queensland Health and Hospital Service (CQHHS) to ask if she should wait for the test result before returning to work.
However, no one could tell her what to do, so she went to work at the nursing home for another two days.
Staff took her temperature at the start of her shifts, but did not ask any questions, including why she had taken two days off work.
When she finally received the positive result, supervisors directed the nurse to self-isolate.
The following day, the CQHHS suspended her, and began moving residents from the age care facility.
A month earlier, on 11 April, the nurse travelled to the Queensland town of Blackwater to watch the sunrise.
On the 26 May, Nathan Turner died in Blackwater.
Queensland Health initially reported the 30 year-old had tested positive for COVID-19, and announced it was investigating links with the nurse.
At the time, Queensland’s Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Jeanette Young, accused the nurse of changing her story “so many times”.
However, the NPAQ said the nurse did not mention the trip to Blackwater because contact tracers never asked about it.
Additionally, the NPAQ noted the date of her visit and the date of Mr Turner’s death made it impossible for there to be a link between the cases.
The department later revealed Turner did not die of COVID-19, and admitted his death had no link with the nurse.
“NPAQ DEFENDS ROCKHAMPTON NURSE AT CENTRE OF COVID-19 INVESTIGATION”
Despite the confusion, Health Minister Steven Miles publicly criticised the nurse at the time.
“It’s disappointing that anyone would lie to our public health officials – lives are literally at risk,” Miles told a press conference on 29 May.
Jack McGuire, assistant secretary of the NPAQ, said the nurse is the victim of a political witch-hunt, even receiving death threats.
“She has been vilified on social media after the Health Minister derided her on national television,” he said.
“Mr Miles should apologise immediately to this hardworking nurse who was trying her best to do the right thing.”
Investigation clears Rockhampton nurse
The Queensland Health investigation found the nurse did not breach any aged care directives when she worked while infectious with COVID-19.
Instead, it blamed Queensland Health’s management failures and mis-communications for the health scare at the home.
It also found the nurse had been “forthright and cooperative” with investigators and shared “honest recollections” about her travel.
The report also confirmed that neither her GP, or the CQHHS, told her to self-isolate while waiting for the test result.
The investigation also found the checks for staff upon arrival at work had not been adequate.
For example, they failed to ask the nurse why she took two days off before returning to work.
Additionally, the investigation found the nurse’s treatment at work:
“…before and during May and while the subject officer’s employment has been suspended could have been more respectful and caring”.
Furthermore, Queensland Health Director-General Dr John Wakefield said had there been a more “collaborative and caring culture” at the facility, the incident may never have happened.
“We have taken every opportunity to apply what we have learned, including from this event, for the benefit of Queenslanders,” he said.
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