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Statement on the Wuhan Novel Coronavirus

A multi-ethnic group of medical scientists stop and pause for a team portrait before continuing their work. They are each smiling while wearing lab coats and protective eye wear for safety.

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is joining with the Canadian Health Professionals Secretariat (CHPS) to call for the updating of protections for health care workers to ensure that these workers are able to serve the public effectively in the event of a widespread infection.

Ottawa (30 Jan. 2020) ― The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is joining with the Canadian Health Professionals Secretariat (CHPS) to call on all health care facilities to ensure that they have the most up-to-date protocols in place for health care workers as the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak threatens. The health and safety of health care workers must be properly protected so that patients can receive the care they need.

CHPS is a national advocacy body that represents 100,000 unionized health professionals who deliver the diagnostic, clinical, rehabilitation and preventative services that are essential to timely and quality health care. NUPGE is one of Canada’s largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. NUPGE and CHPS combined represent more than 150,000 provincial health care workers across many different disciplines.

During outbreaks of highly infectious and deadly disease, health care workers are at risk because they work closely with patients, often even before the disease is identified. We are calling on health care employers to work with front-line health care workers and their unions to ensure the health and safety of workers are protected so that they can properly and safely protect and care for the public.

The lessons from the failures around the SARS pandemic in 2003 must be remembered. Front-line health care workers were infected while treating patients during the SARS outbreak, and some lost their lives as a result. In a health crisis, dedicated and professional health care workers, given proper equipment, training and protocols are crucial to containing the outbreak and lessening the human costs.

NUPGE and CHPS played an important role in developing and implementing health care protocols during the SARS outbreak, and we call on employers to revisit those protocols with the involvement of unions and front-line staff to make sure they remain current and are updated as necessary.

Health care workers must have the personal protective equipment and training to ensure their safety and the safety of their co-workers and the community when they are treating patients who may have been exposed to this virus. Health authorities must have in place and implement a pandemic response plan specific to 2019-nCoV.

Hospitals and other sites where there is a risk of exposure must ensure the safety of workers and have controls in place to minimize the risk of exposure. This is true of health care settings, but it must also be applied to other potential zones of contact, such as border control and screening, paramedic services, airline operations, etc. Hospitals, in particular, must have and implement proper protocols and site-specific exposure-control plans for 2019-nCoV.

Health care workers are committed professionals who work in challenging environments and regularly risk their personal health and safety in order to care for patients. They are the guardians of our public health care system and protect all of us. They deserve to know they will return to their families after their shift, free from disease and in a state of health. This can only be accomplished if employers and governments respect their obligations and their duty to ensure a safe workplace and an effective health care system.

Larry Brown   President NUPGE 
Val Avery  Co-Chair CHPS