Whitireia Nursing Graduate and Tutor Helps Set Up New Zealand’s Covid Close Contact Tracing Centre

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The Ministry of Health called on five senior nurses, called ‘clinical leads’, to help set up a National Close Contact Tracing Centre with an overall objective to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"As a nurse, it is in our DNA to save lives, that is why when I received a call late one evening from my manager at Capital & Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) to join a team of senior nurses at the Ministry of Health to assist in the rapid response to close contact tracing I said yes without hesitation,” says Lynette Singh, who was at the time, Care Capacity Demand Management (CCDM) Project Support Coordinator at CCDHB.

“What better way to showcase the year of the nurse and midwife than in the fight against COVID-19, I felt extremely proud to be called up."

“Having made hundreds of nursing friends from when I qualified from the first-ever degree for nursing offered by Whitirea in 1996 to over 20 years of experience, I knew the risk Covid posed to them, and all five of us wanted to minimise the spread as quickly as possible. I know colleagues, especially from my time working at hospitals in London, who have sadly been impacted.

Working together and with guidance from the Ministry of Health, the group of nurses wrote a very specific script and started calling those who had been in close contact with someone who had developed COVID 19. The script was rolled out to 200 other callers.

“You can imagine what it must have been like for the people we rang, to receive an unexpected phone call and be informed that they had been exposed to someone who had developed COVID-19 and that they needed to self isolate. Not easy for anyone.

“From my experience, you have about 10 seconds to build a rapport and connect with someone on the phone. Then you have to quickly determine the number of things: their understanding of English and that they are the right person. Then we have to share the news about being a close contact, which can be very frightening to hear. And importantly, what precautionary steps need to be taken regarding isolation, information on symptoms and how to quickly access health services if required and responsibilities in terms of public health and safety. There was a lot of misinformation circulating so clear communication on this was critical.

Lynette describes the ‘journey of a nurse’ as being a core contribution to the successful set-up of the contact tracing centre.

Lynette graduated from the first Bachelor of Nursing degree offered at Whitireia in 1996, worked in pediatric cardiology in Auckland, paediatrics in London and in public health, and then tutored for 12 years at Whitireia while also completing a Masters in nursing.

“I truly believe I would not have had this opportunity without the support I got from my tutors at Whitireia on my nursing journey - to attain a masters, teach, have a family and return to frontline work resulted in me at the pinnacle - being involved in something so significant for the public health of all New Zealanders.

“The years of experience in fast-moving environments making quick clinical assessments with calm and sound judgment put us nurses in the perfect position to help with this national effort to stem the spread of COVID and save lives,” says Lynette.

Lynette Singh

“Nurses are trained at critical thinking, communicating, adapting, collaborating and performing under pressure. We deal with challenging situations on a daily basis, with empathy at the heart of everything we do and this was no different. We brought very specific skills to help set up the centre, based at the Ministry’s HQ in Central Wellington and helped make it a success - something to tell the grandkids one day!”

“Timely contact tracing is a crucial part of our response to COVID-19 and in helping us to break the chain of transmission,” said the Ministry of Health, “We are hugely appreciative of everyone who has been, and is continuing to contribute to the development of New Zealand's contact tracing capabilities, including Lynette and her colleagues.

‘’It is important that people remain vigilant for the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and contact their GP or Healthline for advice, so they can be tested as quickly as possible when appropriate. The faster we are able to identify cases, the easier it is to quickly trace and isolate close contacts and limit the spread of the virus.”