21 Oct 2021

Little moves to reassure health workforce as hospitals prepare for Covid-19 explosion

10:07 am on 21 October 2021

Health Minister Andrew Little is assuring the workforce the government is doing what it can to prepare for a rise in Covid-19 hospitalisations.

Andrew Little speaks to media about Covid preparedness

Health Minister Andrew Little says preparations for hospitalisations are adequate and health workers should be assured of that. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Little told Morning Report pressure on health workers is always front of mind for the government, and he understands their anxiety with rising covid case numbers.

"I understand that there's a lot of anxiety around in the nursing workforce, and those in ED and other parts of hospitals too," he said.

"Because we are at that point now where things are starting to change, people are concerned about the rising number of cases.

"The whole way that this government has managed Covid-19 cases right back to last year, one of the critical issues we've had on our mind is the impact to the health system and making sure that the decisions we make and what we do minimises that impact, so that we do see overwhelmed hospitals."

Little says the health workforce should be assured that the pressure they are under isn't unnoticed, and the government is working to have the system as ready as it can be should hospitalisation rates increase.

He told Morning Report that at the moment rates were steady, but about 14,000 extra nurses had now been trained to work in an intensive care unit, and more workers would be joining the system in about a month after MIQ rooms were put aside for them to enter the country.

Further numbers of migrant workers would be joining the system in about a month.

Between 120 and 130 nurses have also been brought in to Auckland from other parts of the country since the outbreak started in August.

Auckland's Middlemore is predicting 20 cases a day through its emergency department by next month.

"At the moment the hospitalisation rate is roughly 5 percent, the ICU rate is hovering between half a percent to 1 percent," he said.

"That's been steady one for at least a couple of weeks. We know that a lot of people who are turning up at hospital are unvaccinated."

The minister said his daily briefings from the Ministry of Health indicated that ICU bed capacity hovers around 325 across the system and the surge trend workforce is adequate to deal with raising numbers.

Little added he was comfortable with the decision announced yesterday to open up Auckland secondary schools to senior students, even though it may increase case numbers in the city.

"The age group that's going to be allowed back to school can be vaccinated, many are vaccinated and there will still be measures in place, requiring them to wear a mask, to maintain social distancing," he said.

PPE still an issue for nurses - union

The nurses union said district health boards are underprepared for the pandemic and nurses are still having difficulty getting adequate protective equipment.

There were 37 people in hospital with Covid-19 yesterday, and many more have passed through emergency departments during the outbreak.

Nurses report being stressed and some are quitting due to the pressure.

Kerri Nuku from the Nurses Organisation told Morning Report there are pockets where resources are easy to come by, but it is unacceptable that accessing PPE at this stage of the pandemic is still not a given.

She said for nurses working at close contact such as in ED, the N95 masks if worn for a long time can cause complications, such as skin irritations or making asthma worse, but then nurses sometimes had difficulty accessing substitutes.

"Those types of retrictions are not the type of restictions to impose when you're working in such a critical area."

She would not name the DHBs which were putting on restrictions.

"It varies, it pops up every now and again."

She said it put nurses under incredible pressure and made them anxious and stressed.

"Covid is on everybody's mind ... We should be treating every patient as though they are Covid positive ...there is no relief for them when they go home at night. ...There is no rest for nurses or healthcare workers."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs