21 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Government PPE management to be reviewed by Auditor-General

6:30 pm on 21 April 2020

The Auditor-General will provide an independent review of the management of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Health workers take part in ICU training for Covid-19 at Hutt Hospital.

Health workers take part in ICU training for Covid-19 at Hutt Hospital. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The review will cover how the Ministry of Health manages stock, ensures an adequate supply, and distributes the gear.

The Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) said it would not physically inspect stock levels because staff could not visit storage locations in the current environment.

The review would not cover the Ministry's clinical guidance on PPE use, but would look at the controls over procurement, distribution to district health boards and other health services, and controls over stock levels.

"We will report on how the Ministry is responding to challenges and recommend improvements where appropriate," a statement from OAG said.

It expected to take four weeks to complete the review and would report publicly on the findings.

OAG declined RNZ's request for an interview.

Its statement said: "The Ministry has needed to move quickly to address the current needs".

"In particular, it has needed to set up new approaches to national reserves and stock levels, ordering, freight management, distribution, and advice on the appropriate use of PPE.

"The Ministry's priority is dealing with the Covid-19 situation and our work will be designed to minimise any disruption and use of Ministry staff's time."

The union that represents residential aged care workers, E tū, praised the announcement.

E tū national secretary Bill Newson said anything that could be done to improve the provision of PPE was very good.

"It's all very well to have a policy and plan and have the best intentions, but we need the appropriate PPE gear to be available.

"You hesitate to talk about victories in a difficult and tragic situation, but [this review] is a very good thing for working people."

The union has been putting pressure on the Ministry since last month, saying those in care workers roles needed good access to PPE.

"It's been an issue all along - the gap between intention and declared policy and what working people can actually get their hands on on the day.

Newson said the pressure on PPE supplies would become more acute with the transition back to level 3 this coming Monday night.

"Over the last few weeks it's been an issue for essential workers but that issue is going to broaden out. More people are going to need it, so I think it'll be a bigger issue."

"We've got that date after Anzac Day when people have got to be back at work. It's got to be Covid-safe work. PPE's a big part of that."

Others on the frontline welcomed the review, but were nervous the shift to level 3 next week would place more pressure on the stretched supplies.

The nurse's union said that in the fourth week of lockdown, access to PPE was still a concern for some healthcare workers.

New Zealand Nurse's Organisation kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said it was a shame healthcare workers had to wait so long for it to begin.

"Every time we've raised issue where there's been shortages we've seen an immediate response from the district health boards to fix the problem and that's been great, but it's not okay that we either have to go to media or raise these problems before the tension is addressed."

Nuku said the NZNO expected there to be spikes in transmission once people started moving about more.

"Once we start to increase the bubbles, the likelihood of transmission may increase, and that's where PPE becomes really critical to ensure we have that steady supply of stock as we need it."

She said the NZNO had been vocal about PPE supply for a month as it did not want to see nurses in New Zealand face the major shortage issues that had been seen in places like the US.

"We would certainly like to hope that if there's a future pandemic that we're not in the same place as nurses or healthcare professionals asking for access to PPE gear."

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