NZ’s health system can cope with Omicron — Little

By and is republished with permission.

New Zealand’s health system will be able to cope with Omicron and “whatever coronavirus has to throw at us” in 2022, the Health Minister says.

Andrew Little told Breakfast he was “confident” about the health system’s capacity next year.

He said designated ICU beds around the country were at about 180. If it was needed, that could be surged up to 290 with “sufficiently”, but not fully trained, nursing staff.

“If we really had to surge” at the expense of non-coronavirus patients, up to 550 beds could be available and staffed with nurses who are trained to care for only Covid-19 patients in ICU, Little said.

“Look at how we’ve dealt with Delta in the past few months. We’ve done phenomenally well,” he said.

“I’m confident we will get through this and whatever coronavirus has to throw at us.”

Little said hospitalisations as a result of the Delta outbreak were about what was expected, while ICU numbers were lower than initially projected.

He said the latter was a reflection of the quality of treatment people received while in hospital, which was preventing them from needing ICU-level care.

Despite fewer patients ending up in hospital with Delta, a September report from Sir Brian Roche said that the health system didn’t adequately prepare for the variant.

Nurses at DHBs around Auckland were also concerned Wellington officials’ assurances of a robust health system is far from the reality they faced on the frontline.

Little acknowledged the health workforce, particularly in Auckland’s hospitals who were dealing with Covid-19 patients, were “tired, exhausted, fatigued”.

He said the Government was working hard to plug the gaps.

The Government had set aside 300 places a month for international health workers in MIQ. Plans were also underway to build up the local health workforce in the long-term, and that this strategy would be formed when Health New Zealand begins to take over DHBs’ functions next year.

On Thursday morning, the Government said it would be allocating $644 million from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund to upgrade hospitals around the country.

Government to spend $644 million upgrading health services around NZ

That’s on top of the “one-off” $6 billion spending boost in Budget 2022 announced on Wednesday, with some of that money going into the health system.

“Our population grew by about 600,000 between 2008 and 2018 … a hospital the size of Middlemore or Canterbury serves a population of roughly 600,000,” Little explained.

“Over those 10 years, we didn’t put a lot more into expanding our health capacity. So, we are short a hospital the size of Middlemore or Canterbury in our health system at the moment.”

When he asked hospitals what maintenance and upgrades they wanted over the next 10 years, those amounted to about $24 billion worth, Little said.

“I don’t know how on Earth how we’re going to do that.”

National’s health spokesperson Shane Reti said the previous National-led Governments had spent more than $200 million on health infrastructure every year between 2012 and 2017.


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