21 Apr 2020

Doctors and nurses relieved at govt's cautious approach

8:40 am on 21 April 2020

Intensive care specialist Andrew Stapleton spent much of last month preparing for the worst case scenario - hospitals overwhelmed by critically ill patients.

Hutt Hospital ICU director Andrew Stapleton and clinical nurse manager Susan Cartmell.

Hutt Hospital ICU director Andrew Stapleton and clinical nurse manager Susan Cartmell. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

As a representative of the College of Intensive Care Medicine, he tallied up every available ventilator and tried to make sure there would be enough people to work them.

Four weeks on, he was relieved the lockdown has had such a big impact - but warned it was not over at alert level 3.

"Hopefully the whole of New Zealand won't go back to work, and therefore the amount of car accidents and other things that keep intensive cares busy won't ramp up in that time," he said.

"And I think it gives us that crucial time to make sure we finish the job of eliminating the virus on this round."

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Other frontline doctors and nurses, who braced for the worst under Covid-19, are relieved the government is staying cautious by spending a little longer in level 4.

But some warned that testing, protective equipment and contact tracing still needed work if the country was going to keep the virus out long term.

Tens of thousands of people have had elective surgery deferred as hospitals cleared space for potential patients - and tried to prevent the virus's spread.

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The College of Emergency Medicine president, John Bonning, said it was time for hospitals to start holding regular clinics and elective operations.

But that would not mean a return to the old normal.

Most hospitals would keep the separate Covid-19 areas that many built or renovated in just a couple of weeks.

Masks, gowns, and goggles would still be crucial.

"You've still got to be very wary of patients with respiratory illnesses. We still expect to put on protective equipment to see patients with respiratory illnesses for some months to come," Dr Bonning said

And that was at the front of mind for the Nurses Organisation's kaiwhakahaere, Kerri Nuku.

Some nurses - particularly those not working in hospitals - still did not have enough personal protective equipment, she said.

Kerri Nuku. Photo:

That was despite more than 130 health workers contracting the disease, many of them at work.

"One nurse texted me... and she said 'oh my gosh, I'm still vulnerable,' because she'll still be doing community testing, community screening. This isn't getting any easier for those in the community doing the invasive swabbing," she said.

As flu season approached, she worried people could get sick again - but in much wider bubbles.

The government needed to make its contact tracing stronger before it headed to level 2 so it could move quickly to stop spread, she said.

The College of GPs president, Samantha Murton, also shared her view.

"If there are any pockets that come up then we can shut them down really quickly and it's making sure that the system is totally robust to be able to do that. Then we can continue to protect people who will be more vulnerable to this condition," she said.

She wanted to be optimistic about the situation but keeping Covid-19 at bay relied on people being careful and the tracking and testing getting up to speed, she said.

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