16 Jun 2020

Health Minister temporarily suspends compassionate exemptions from quarantine

From Checkpoint, 5:09 pm on 16 June 2020

Minister of Health David Clark says he is disappointed to learn that the two latest cases of Covid-19 were not tested before leaving their facility under a special exemption.

Two women were given permission to leave their hotel, nine days after arriving from Britain, and travel to Wellington to visit their dying parent. They have since both tested positive for the coronavirus.

Clark told Checkpoint that as a result of the latest cases, he had asked Dr Bloomfield to temporarily suspend all compassionate exemptions until he was confident that "things are happening as they should" at the borders. 

"They followed all of the instructions given to them and so they haven't come into contact with a wider group of people ... but nonetheless I am disappointed to learn they were out of the facility without testing negative first, because that was my understanding that that would have happened."

He said it was his understanding that one of the women had symptoms but dismissed them as part of a pre-existing condition.   

Clark said it was his expectation that people were tested at three days and 12 days since their arrival, based on advice from the Ministry of Health.

"My understanding is that the Director-General himself was expecting they'd be tested before they left and so the system has clearly not worked as it was intended to work. I'm very disappointed about that."

He said he had asked for the temporary suspension of exemptions to ensure that there were no others in similar situations. 

"We have faced some action in the courts over our stringent approach, however, I think we need to be unapologetic about that, we need to make sure we are having a water tight boundary and we don't have people coming in with Covid because our citizens have worked very hard to make sure that we don't have Covid here."

The new cases also highlighted the importance of strict border controls, he said.

"We need to have really stringent controls at our border for the protection of our people and recognising that people have made sacrifices to get to the position we are now."

Clark on health system review: 'Implementation will be up to the future government'

The long awaited Health and Disability system review has been released today, recommending the culling of District Health Boards from 20 to as few as eight, ditching DHB elections in favour of appointed board members, creating Health NZ - a new crown entity that will oversee services and DHB finances, and setting up a new Māori Health Authority that reports to the Health Minister.

It also suggests adjusting the funding formula to increase ethnicity and deprivation weighting, and developing a long-term health strategy, looking 15 years into the future.

Clark told Checkpoint that many of the recommendations required legislative change. 

"We can commit to the direction ... but there will be implementation things to work through and policy decisions to fine tune as we get through to that point in implementation and that will be up to the future government."

He described the report as "sensible and thorough", with widespread changes to make sure all New Zealanders could access the healthcare they needed.

The recommendation of eight to 12 DHBs was sensible, he said, adding that it had long been his view that more shared services should be part of the sector. 

Switching the appointment of health boards to the minister put accountability in the system, he said.

"Those DHBs will answer to Health NZ, the new structure that will have responsibility for overseeing service delivery and financial performance in the sector."

The formation of a new Māori Health Authority would take Māori directorate from inside the ministry and put it alongside it instead to give Maori a stronger voice, he said.

"We know that unless we change the structures in the system we're going to keep getting the same result, and our Māori health statistics are terrible, they need to improve."

"We've already got kaupapa Māori services, iwi services, they will have an ability to oversee how those things are shaped up and then we will have a body that is responsible for making sure they are implemented."

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters had previously likened targeted Māori funding to social apartheid. Asked whether Peters accepted the recommendations of a new Māori Health Authority and targeted funding, Clark said: "The whole of the government has signed up to the direction."

"The legislation will be required to put all these things into action, that will flow through to the new incoming government, which I hope to be part of, and they will have to make the final decision on those things."