COVID masks with ‘gassy smell’ leave nurses gagging
A bad batch of smelly surgical masks have left nurses gagging and forced some of the 19 public hospitals that received them to send them back.
The contaminated masks were distributed to at least 11 local health districts, with the nurses union called in after members began complaining last week.
Among the complaints made to the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association included that the masks stank of petroleum or diesel, with others saying they smelled of gas.
"I thought it was just my imagination," one Gosford Hospital nurse told the union.
"I thought the mask smelt like the gas had been left on."
A nurse at Lithgow District Hospital told the union that the masks were making their eyes "very watery and itchy" while a Blacktown Hospital nurse said management had disposed of the carton they had received.
A nurse from Tamworth Rural Referral Hospital said several staff had complained about the masks, with management removing the unused stock from the storeroom.
Over at Byron Central Hospital on the NSW north coast, one nurse claimed it took two weeks for the masks to be removed despite "multiple complaints".
"Multiple complaints from variety of staff," the nurse said.
"Management collected them all and sent them back for replacement stock."
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The union said the bad batch also appeared to have been distributed to John Hunter Hospital, Tweed Hospital, Grafton Base Hospital, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sutherland Hospital, Bankstown Lidcombe Hospital, Liverpool Hospital, Bathurst Base Hospital, Orange Base Hospital, Shellharbour Hospital, Shoalhaven District Memorial Hospital and Concord Repatriation General Hospital, where nurses said the masks were recalled "due to a diesel contamination".
A nurse at Crookwell District Hospital described the smell as "weird".
"We had a box of them same brand as the others and they smelt weird," the nurse said.
Not every hospital was sending the masks back, with nurses at Prince of Wales continuing to wear them.
"Interesting to hear that people have been sending theirs back," a nurse said.
"We've just been wearing ours."
Union general secretary Brett Holmes said it was unacceptable that no directive appeared to have warned staff about the contaminated masks, especially given that nurses were operating under an "amber alert' framework where they must wear masks within 1.5m of patients.
"We were shocked to learn nurses have been wearing contaminated surgical masks in the workplace," he said.
"It appears some sites acted swiftly to rectify the issue, while others have ignored it or were completely oblivious.
"This is yet another example of what nurses and midwives are having to put up with, while juggling the response to COVID-19, and all the while being told they're not worthy of a 2.5 per cent wage increase. It's a disgrace."
A NSW Health spokeswoman confirmed a "small number" of level 2, Bunzl surgical masks
had been identified as having "a strong chemical odour".
She said Local Health Districts were alerted about the affected batch on August 21, with managers asked return them as soon as possible.
"NSW Health is working with the supplier, who has picked up affected samples and
currently investigating the cause," she said.
"The supplier is replacing all affected stock. These masks are currently not available to order."
She said there was no need for the masks to be used with NSW Health having ample stock to replace them.
Originally published as COVID masks with 'gassy smell' leave nurses gagging