Staff at the Launceston General Hospital could be forced to decontaminate and re-use face masks in the event of a spike in demand for personal protective equipment.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues unabated, the Tasmanian Health Service is considering the option of decontaminating and re-using P2 face masks at the hospital should the need arise.
Also being considered is the potential for hand sanitiser containers to be "reprocessed".
Coronavirus: All the latest updates on COVID-19 for Tasmania
A memo from infection prevention and control unit nurse manager Fiona De Sousa was sent to other nurse unit managers and nursing directors employed by THS North last Wednesday, alerting them to the "investigations" being undertaken.
The Health and Community Services Union is outraged by the idea that masks may be re-used, with assistant secretary Robbie Moore saying the memo had caused "a fair bit of angst" among members.
"It's alarming because it goes against the manufacturers' instructions, in that masks are not to be reused," Mr Moore said. "[Putting] out a memo saying [that] to staff ... without any discussion has caused real alarm."
"There's concerns that there isn't a way to clean the material [the masks] are made out of - certainly that we know of.
"It could, in fact, jeopardise staff and patient safety."
However, a THS spokesperson said such processes were being undertaken in hospitals across Australia.
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"Current supply levels of [PPE] at the LGH are meeting the needs of the hospital, however contingencies for the maintenance of supplies are being considered in the event that a spike in demand occurs," the spokesperson said.
"The reprocessing of masks and hand sanitiser bottles are two measures being investigated, based on international best practice."
Reports of a dearth of PPEs in Australia continue to circulate across the nation.
"In relation to the lack of PPEs, members have been saying to us, 'We've been talking for 20 years about a pandemic occurring - how do they not have the supplies in stock to actually plan this out?'," Mr Moore said.
Tasmanian Health Minister Sarah Courtney acknowledged there were "challenges around various areas of procurement when it comes to PPE".
"We are working strongly with the federal government," she said. "The federal government has a stockpile."
"We're engaging with them regularly to make sure that we have got the correct PPE for our hospital systems.
"When we look at the primary care sector, our GPs are working on an almost daily basis with Primary Care Tasmania that also has access to a national stockpile of masks.
"And they're able to access those so they can stay safe while they're treating patients in the community."
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