17 Sep 2021

Waitematā DHB senior medical staff pitch in to help vaccinate

9:22 am on 17 September 2021

An anaesthetist who is volunteering as a Covid-19 vaccinator in his level 4 downtime says he is loving being part of the drive to immunise Auckland.

Anaesthetist and vaccinator Julian Fuller.

Anaesthetist and vaccinator Julian Fuller said he had more time to get vaccinating because he was not seeing his usual private hospital work. Photo: Supplied to RNZ

About 30, surgeons, anaesthetists and other senior doctors from the Waitematā District Health Board have become temporary vaccinators as thousands of operations are deferred across the city.

Elective work had been slashed across both public and private hospitals.

North Shore Hospital's entire elective surgery unit was converted into a Covid ward in the first week of the lockdown.

Anaesthetist Julian Fuller said he had still been busy at the DHB with acute or urgent surgery but had not been doing the private hospital work he normally did.

That gave him more time to get vaccinating.

He got a "real buzz" from helping and had particularly enjoyed his work with Waipareira Trust in Henderson.

On his first day the team vaccinated 1700, he said.

"It's been unbelievably incredible to see the community feeling of getting so many people vaccinated out there ... everyone had a tremendously good sense of pride about helping the community - and helping the whole of Auckland," he said

Even though he was no stranger to needles, he and all the other doctors had to do the vaccination training.

Some had the job of observing people after their jab.

Dr Fuller said hospitals would have a lot of catching up of elective surgery to do.

But under level 4, good progress had been made on getting on top of acute cases, he said.

"The broken legs, the acute gynae, the acute general surgery, which normally is a never ending list of cases we try to get done every day," he said.

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Dr Fuller said on his first day the team vaccinated 1700 people. Photo: Supplied

Waitematā DHB was only doing about 35 percent of its usual elective surgery, while Counties Manukau was down as low as 20 percent.

All urgent surgery like for cancer was still happening, as well as some more urgent elective work.

At a meeting of the Waitematā District Health Board this week, hospital services manager Mark Shepherd said the hospital went into lockdown with a backlog of elective surgery.

It has been exacerbated by the nursing shortage and the demand from winter illnesses, he said.

At the start of lockdown, two theatres at Waitakere Hospital were out of action for more than a week when water leaked into the theatre ceilings in a storm during heavy rain, Shepherd said.

Dr Fuller said the shortage of nurses needed to be urgently addressed to help get on top of backlogs and they were undervalued across the country.

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