14 Apr 2020

Healthcare provider struggling to get enough PPE

11:17 am on 14 April 2020

One of the country's major healthcare providers is struggling to get even a weeks worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) from the 20 district health boards.

A worker produces medical N95 masks at a mask production company in Shenyang, China, on February 8, 2020.

A worker produces medical N95 masks at a production company in Shenyang, China, in February. Photo: Xinhua / Yao Jianfeng / AFP

Green Cross Health is a provider of primary health care services through pharmacies, GP clinics and home health care and community nursing.

  • See all RNZ Covid-19 news
  • Group chief executive Rachael Newfield said they were struggling to get PPE for their community health division.

    "We undertake 60,000 personal cares, which are close contact carers looking after an individual in their home every week.

    "To date, from the 20 DHBs, we have received just 30,000 masks, so that isn't enough to last a week, if we allow our staff to feel safe and follow the latest guidance," she said.

    Newfield said the amount of PPE they could receive also differed between individual DHBs, and stocks from local suppliers were also tight.

    She said workers were understandably not happy.

    "They are really disillusioned, they're seeing the same media coverage, the same conversations from the politicians and the officials around the right to feel safe, which we absolutely support.

    "It's really hard for them to reconcile when we say we haven't received enough of those 18 million masks [in the national reserve] to give everyone one yet," she said.

    Some staff have now opted not to work as a result.

    The Ministry of Health sends the equipment to DHBs to distribute, but Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has indicated that if there are problems the ministry may deal directly with health care providers.

    "At this stage the DHBs have asked because they have the relationships and arrangements with their local providers, they want to continue to do that," he said.

    "We are watching closely and if that's not working we will distribute directly out to providers."

    Public Service Association national secretary Kerry Davies said homecare workers felt they were not being treated as a priority.

    "They are feeling like they're being completely ignored by the powers that be, and we know that the health system is very hierarchical and what people are experiencing is being at the bottom of that hierarchy," she said.

    Davies argues the ministry should supply the equipment directly to healthcare providers.

    Geneva Healthcare chief executive Veronica Manion said they received emergency supplies of PPE last week and distribution of that equipment would continue this week.

    "We haven't had a struggle recently, but in the first two weeks of lockdown it was quite difficult," she said.

    She said they will now be looking to order PPE regularly in fortnightly blocks.

    • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

    National Party health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said the problem of PPE distribution was also being experienced by other parts of the sector.

    "I'm hearing from dentists, I'm hearing from midwives, I'm hearing from a number of other people in the health sector, that their attempts to get protective equipment from their local DHBs have been futile," he said.

    Woodhouse said there was a growing concern that the spread of the virus won't continue to be suppressed unless they have that equipment.

    Dr Bloomfield has also said PPE is not a silver bullet but one of many measures needed to help protect workers and the community from the virus.

    Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

    Get the RNZ app

    for ad-free news and current affairs