11 Apr 2020

DHBs accused of 'rationing' PPE say they're working to distribute it

8:30 pm on 11 April 2020

District health boards accused of "rationing" masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) insist they are working hard to get it to those who need it.

This photo taken on February 18, 2020 shows a worker sorting face masks being produced to satisfy increased demand during coronavirus outbreak, at a factory in Nanjing, in China's Jiangsu province.

A worker sorting face masks being produced to satisfy increased demand during coronavirus outbreak, at a factory in Nanjing, in China. Photo: AFP

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Health (MOH) widened access to publicly-funded PPE to include all frontline health workers - including home-support workers - but unions say distribution problems continue.

The Public Service Association, which represents 8000 caregivers and home-support workers, said it was fielding many calls from "very distressed people", who were unable to get PPE.

It named Bay of Plenty, Southern and Canterbury district health boards as having the most serious "distribution problems".

The chief medical officer at Southern District Health Board, Dr Nigel Millar, admitted the rapid turnover to multiple users was "a huge step up" for its supply team.

"But they have taken it on and are working hard and long hours to make it work."

However, it was important to keep stock on hand in case of "an urgent larger need somewhere in the system", he said.

"It would be imprudent to have large stocks out with users because they could not be mobilised if needed elsewhere," Dr Millar said.

"This may give the impression that there is rationing - this is not the case."

The aim was to ensure the system was "flexible and responsive".

"It is very disappointing when we do not meet need, or leave people concerned about when the next delivery is. We will continue to improve the system responding to issues by tightening up the system."

Dr Millar said the priority to protect home care workers and those involved in supporting vulnerable people was "as important as for anyone else".

"We are all working to the same aim - a safe and effective care system for people who are suspected of having of have Covid-19 which includes protecting staff as they work."

Canterbury's situation

Canterbury DHB incident controller Dan Coward said it was in "the final stages" of distributing the supply of masks from the Ministry of Health to health and disability services across the region and giving them the ministry's guidelines on the appropriate use of PPE.

"These providers have been made aware of these processes, which have been working well."

The health board continued to monitor the Ministry of Health's guidance on supply and use of PPE and would "implement changes as required".

Meanwhile, the ministry said a new national distribution system will come into effect after Easter, on 14 April.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Director-General of Health said this would would initially involve the distribution of masks but later be expanded to include other PPE.

"Sourcing of PPE will be managed at the national level to ensure ongoing supplies are adequate."

Bay of Plenty DHB has been approached for comment.

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