Nurses and paramedics want COVID-19 compensation hurdle removed
Nurses and paramedics want workers’ compensation laws changed to exempt them from having to prove a COVID-19 infection was contracted on the job and not at the shops or at home.
The issue has been raised as the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) reports it has been advised of 111 COVID-19 workers compensation claims as of Friday – 11 of which have been denied.
NSW Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello has asked the authority to review a bill proposed by the Greens to exempt essential workers, including nurses and paramedics, from having to prove the source of COVID-19 infection “and provide advice as a matter of urgency”.
“NSW workers compensation laws and guidelines have already been amended to respond to COVID-19 and SIRA is considering further changes to guidelines,” Mr Dominello said.
Intensive care unit nurse Wing Besilos, who is also a NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) councillor, said she and her nurse colleagues feared getting COVID-19 from their patients.
She said nurses who contracted the coronavirus would welcome an exemption from having to prove they were infected at work if they need to make a workers’ compensation claim.
“Apart from the stress of getting COVID that would be a big relief not to have to prove you got it from work and be compensated properly for it,” she said.
Ms Besilos said it would be difficult for nurses to prove they were infected at work including by patients who were treated while they were asymptomatic, but infectious. She said an exemption from having to prove the source of a COVID-19 infection would “make us feel we are being supported in case something happens to us”.
“It would be a safety net for everybody, especially now with people losing jobs. Some nurses could be the breadwinner of their family at the moment,” she said. “If they get sick, then, they will really need that support system to fall back on.
“Nurses that I work with including me, we are very highly stressed because of the high risk. Nurses in the wards are also exposed because not everyone is being tested for COVID. Community nurses are also exposed when they go visiting patients.
“Not everyone is symptomatic with COVID – they could be incubating and they are already infectious.”
NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association general secretary Brett Holmes said as the disease spreads in the community, it will become more difficult for nurses to prove the source of their infection.
He said one of his members had to insist that she be self-isolated because she was in contact with another staff member who had tested positive to COVID-19.
A very large number of nurses have responsibilities to care for their elderly or children or both and there is a significant level of anxiety that exposure to this and taking it home with them having contracted it is top of mind for nurses and other health workers,” he said.
Mr Holmes said nurses were already doing it tough because some members of the public had accused them of spreading the virus while wearing their uniforms in the community.
Australian Paramedics Association (NSW) President Chris Kastelan said the proposed amendment to the workers compensation Act would bring some peace of mind to frontline workers during the COVID-19 crisis.
He said paramedics and other essential workers in the health, education, retail and hospitality sectors needed the state government “to step up and protect us and our loved ones if we contract COVID-19”.
“Now, more than ever, paramedics need certainty that if we get seriously ill due to contact with patients, we won’t have to fight with our insurer for workers’ compensation,” he said.
“We know that if we get COVID-19, it was almost certainly from a patient or another health worker. As frontline health workers, who experience a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, we shouldn’t have to prove that we didn’t get it at the shops in order to access workers’ compensation,” he said.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge has introduced a proposed bill to the NSW Parliament that would exempt frontline workers from having to prove they contracted COVID-19 at work when making a workers’ compensation claim.
The proposed law change would cover frontline workers in essential services including health, education, retail or hospitality and deem that the COVID-19 infection was contracted at work. They could then claim for lost wages and medical expenses. Dependents could also claim any death benefits.
“We have an obligation to protect every one of those workers who are placing their health at risk by continuing to provide for the needs of the community during the pandemic,” he said.
“We are already seeing claims being denied, with 11 of the 111 claims made to date refused. It is little wonder this is happening because how do you prove you caught the disease at work rather than at the supermarket or on the bus?”
Mr Dominello said no claims for NSW public servants with a confirmed case of COVID-19 have been denied.
“This is a fast-moving situation that the NSW government and the independent regulator are assessing and closely monitoring,” Mr Dominello said.
A state government spokesman said seven of the compensation claims were from people who did not work in the public sector and who had reported testing positive for the virus. Provisional liability had been accepted for five of those claims and one has been rejected.
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