3 Dec 2021

Saga behind decision to fly Covid-positive WHO worker to NZ revealed

From Checkpoint, 5:38 pm on 3 December 2021

Counties Manukau DHB initially declined to accept a Covid-positive patient from Fiji, and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield questioned why Australia was not asked to take the woman.

A security guard worked at Middlemore Hospital's emergency department on Thursday last week while symptomatic with Covid-19.

Photo: LDR / Stephen Forbes

Documents released to Checkpoint under the Official Information Act shed more light on the mad scramble between health officials and DHBs in July to make special arrangements for the United Nations employee to travel from Suva to Auckland for critical treatment.

Texts, emails and other correspondence show the DHB did a u-turn after Ministry of Health officials and then the UN itself became involved. 

The documents reveal the ministry thoroughly questioned the DHB about its decision to decline the medevac, asking if it had exhausted all options. Ministry officials also told the DHB it must treat the official like any other official, whether they are from New Zealand or the UN. 

The Fijian woman, who works for the World Health Organisation - part of the UN - was released from Middlemore last month after 76 days in hospital.

She arrived in late July and was immediately admitted to Middlemore Hospital's ICU. 

Notes show asymptomatic surveillance testing was planned to "begin weekly with those that care for her and we aim for only vaccinated staff to care for her".
 
"CMDHB has advised that this individual is eligible for assessment and needs treatment for... and may require ventilator support that is not available in Suva Fiji," one official noted.  

In response to Bloomfield asking why Australia was not asked to take the woman, one ministry official wrote: "In short, it appears the UN had a clear preference to approach NZ first and foremost."

The trove of emails and texts also give further clues about the role played by former prime minister and ex-UNDP boss Helen Clark.

Clark did not advise New Zealand take the patient, but she did update officials on the situation. Her involvement included calls to Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Mahuta has previously told media Clark did not influence her decision to allow the patient into New Zealand.

Officials have said the medevac was "no different to any other request New Zealand receives. 

"Neither the Ministry nor DHBs were asked by Rt Hon Helen Clark nor the United Nations to provide this patient with preferential access. 

"All costs associated with the transport of the patient and treatment in New Zealand are met by the United Nations."

RNZ has approached Counties Manukau DHB and Clark for comment.