26 Aug 2020

Covid-19 testing: Auckland clinics confident of reaching 70,000 target

12:41 pm on 26 August 2020

Auckland healthcare providers say the 70,000 testing target set out over the next seven days is achievable, despite the number of swabs taken in the community starting wane.

South Seas Healthcare nurses at the pop up testing centre near the Manukau Samoan Methodist Church.

South Seas Healthcare nurses at the pop up testing centre near the Manukau Samoan Methodist Church. Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

The target was announced yesterday in the Minister of Health's briefing, where he said district health boards were reporting testing fatigue, with numbers dropping below 5000 on Tuesday.

He said about 70 percent of those tests were expected to be in Auckland.

Prior to the resurgence of Covid-19 in the community, testing was also failing to reach its daily national target. General practitioners have been warning that with tests once again dropping, it is time to think about a long-term strategy.

Doctor Lily Fraser is a GP at Turuki Healthcare in Māngere, which is one of the designated clinics offering Covid-19 testing.

Dr Fraser told RNZ's Morning Report that in the first three days of the level 3 restrictions, there was a massive surge in people getting assessed.

"Our numbers were two to three times higher than what they are now. But I think the numbers are still higher now than they had been previously.

"I looked at the numbers just out of curiosity before the announcement of a new community case and we were sitting around 30,000 nationally per week, so I think it will be achievable to double that given the current heightened concern about it."

She advised anyone whose condition was not improving to call their clinic to see if they needed to be tested again.

Dr Malia Funaki, clinical director of Pasifika healthcare provider Fono, also agreed that the 70,000 target was doable.

The clinic had mobile teams out in force and had been working with Pasifika leaders and providers for the community to ramp up testing.

"The maximum number of swabs that our mobile Pasifika team has been swabbing out in our community is about 535 swabs per day," Dr Funaki said, adding that one of the positive cases was detected through community testing.

"So we are working hard to continue to provide this service, and we take the service to where our people are and where they are comfortable - like the homes and churches."

Pasifika continue to lead the way in testing numbers

The Pasifika community members have been leading the numbers getting tested for the virus.

It is now being propagated further with the two biggest Pacific primary care providers setting up more testing sites, and the government announcing an expansion to its $17.5 million support package for Pacific communities.

South Seas Healthcare in Ōtara and Bader Drive Doctors in Māngere and Manurewa were approached by church ministers for help with testing and social support, including on-site testing at churches.

Dr Teuila Percival.

Dr Teuila Percival. Photo: Supplied/Pasifika Medical Association

Pasifika make up 81 of the 109 cases in the Auckland August cluster so far.

South Seas Healthcare chair Teuila Percival told First Up the church ministers reached out to them last week after concern in the community that some cases appeared linked to churches.

"They wanted to get tested and the church minister was leading them in that, but they were I think a bit shocked and bit frightened to get their cars and line up at testing centres," Dr Percival said.

"I think there had been new cases in the church congregation and the churches did the absolute right thing, which is going and getting tested."

While the overall numbers for testing had dropped recently, Pasifika still led in people getting tested in Auckland, she said.

"We still need to keep encouraging our people to come forward and get testing, and as providers we need to make that really easy and accessible for them."

As for the new fund, Dr Percival said it was exactly what the community needed.

"It's probably going to be able to fund exactly what we're doing now, which is outreach to the community ... [and] when people need help we can be there."

Their efforts were being supported by what they had leftover of the Covid-19 fund, she said.

Pacific support package expanded

The latest fund for the Pacific community from the government expands on the $17.5m announced in April to $19.5m.

Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa told First Up it would help increase resourcing and capacity of those working to combat the virus within Pacific communities.

"It's actually to ensure the support is focused on where it's most needed, especially where our Pacific communities are accessing services. They are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 especially with this resurgence in Auckland.

"This resurgence has put a huge pressure on our DHBs, especially Counties Manukau DHB and our By Pacific For Pacific providers who are working around the clock."

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Photo: RNZ Pacific / Sela Jane Hopgood

She expects the funding to go out in a similar way to the initial support fund.

"What happened with the last package of Covid-19 Pacific-targeted fund, is the ministry of health actually contracted people they already had contracts with and so that funding actually went out in a week or a week-and-a-half for some of them."

That fund helped set up three mobile units to test people for Covid-19 and a range of other things as well as provide "wraparound services", Salesa said.

"However, with this resurgence they had to double that, they had to actually provide six mobile units because three was not adequate to provide for that huge demand."

The fund could also pay for the extra services of clinics that offered pop-up testing sites, she said.

Five key priority areas are mentioned in the fund - three are to help meet current increased demand on services and to help with close contact tracing in the community.

The fund will also go towards bringing together Pacific researchers and health care providers to study the Pacific experience of Covid-19 to inform future policy.

A flexible pool will also be established to fund disability support services and their Pacific Covid-19 response.

*See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

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