Top health official praises Whakaari/White Island response

12:30 pm on 9 January 2020

The country's top health official says the public system has once again shown its capability after handling the Whakaari/White Island eruption.

A volcano with a large plume of ash.

Whakaari/White Island during the eruption. Photo: Supplied/Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust

Thirteen victims from the volcanic eruption are still being cared for in burns units across the country, one month on from the deadly disaster.

The eruption on 9 December took 17 lives with another two people missing, presumed dead.

Ministry of Health chief executive and director of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said people often heard about challenges facing the health sector, but it was handling the disaster well.

Director General of Health  Ashley Bloomfield. 26 November 2018

Ministry of Health chief executive and director of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

He said there had been other major health events during the year that showed that as well.

"The March terrorist attacks in Christchurch and how well the clinical staff there responded - we really do have a first class healthcare system and we've been able to respond really well," Dr Bloomfield said.

Meanwhile, specialist burn surgeons from Australia and Canada have been in New Zealand to help treat victims of the Whakaari/White Island eruption.

Dr Bloomfield said the surgeons had primarily come from Australia, with one from Canada.

"District health boards cover the costs of those staff coming in."

"Of course, we've asked them to keep a very close tally of those additional costs and we'll be looking closely at what additional funding might be required for the DHB's," he said.

Dr Bloomfield said the process of bringing in overseas specialists required a formal process through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade before the DHB's started paying for their costs.

Whakatāne mayor Judy Turner told Summer Report the tragedy is still raw for the city.

Christmas and New Year couldn't have come at a better time, she said.

"In many ways it was very timely and therapeutic for us as a community to be able to appreciate our own families and be grateful for what we have."

She said a couple of families in Whakatāne have lost loved ones.

While victims and families are the number one priority, people whose businesses have been directly impacted by the eruption are also a priority, she said.

"We are a community that has probably had more than our fair share of natural disasters in the past but it's built in us a resilience that has come to light..."

Outside support has been really appreciated, she said.

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