Health Minister dithered for five months before arranging MIQ spots for critical health workers

It is unforgivable that Health Minister Andrew Little took five months to act before arranging priority MIQ spots for critical health workers, say National’s Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford and Covid Response spokesperson Chris Bishop.

“The Health Minister admitted via written questions to Chris Bishop and myself that he knew in June this year about the problems with MIQ settings not supporting the entry of critical health workers into New Zealand,” says Stanford.

“The Minister knew Delta was on our doorstep, he knew our health system was critically short-staffed, and he knew that offshore healthcare workers were unable to get MIQ spaces.

“Somehow, he still dithered for five full months before announcing MIQ spots would be allocated to critical health workers.

“National has been calling for priority MIQ spots for critical healthcare workers for months. It is utter madness that, in the midst of a global pandemic, the Health Minister knew about the problem and yet took so long to act.

“Any competent Minister would have moved with urgency to demand that MIQ spaces be set aside for healthcare workers earlier this year, when it was clear Delta was coming. Yet the Health Minister seemed to think a five-month delay was acceptable, as we saw him release a self-congratulatory press release on October 20 telling everyone he had fixed the problem.”

The Minister must be held accountable for his failures, says Bishop.

“He failed to ensure we increased our ICU capacity. And now he’s failed to act with any sort of urgency to ensure desperately needed health workers could get into New Zealand.

“Had he acted five months ago, when he knew about the problem, we would have at least 1200 critical health workers already here today to support our Covid response.

“Because the Minister is asleep at the wheel, these workers won’t even be able to start arriving until the end of November, only to then spend two weeks in quarantine. For those nurses that also need to complete their pre-registration course, it won’t be until March 2022 until they can even begin work.

“The Government’s health response has been woeful. They have squandered the valuable time that we gained through the long and hard lockdowns in 2020.

“The Government clearly has no plan when it comes to our Covid response. National’s ‘Opening Up’ plan covers what needs to be done in detail.”

You can read answers to Written Parliamentary Questions (WPQs) below:


Portfolio: Health (Hon Andrew Little)

Question: When the Minister said that there have been problems with how the dedicated managed isolation and quarantine spaces reserved for medical professionals were allocated, what are those problems and when was the Minister first made aware of these problems?

Reply: The previous emergency and time critical allocations were set up to handle situations like this under a wider umbrella of occupations, and they included critical health workers in their definition. I was first made aware of problems with the current MIQ settings available to support the entry of critical health workers into New Zealand in June this year. I became aware that applications for time sensitive travel, MIQ allocations endorsed by the Ministry of Health were being denied allocation by MBIE due to inflexibility in the eligibility criteria. It was also raised that processing times for MIQ allocations created additional uncertainty as individuals often do not receive confirmation of their MIQ allocation until very close to their date of travel. The Ministry of Health has been working with MBIE to ensure international health workers are able to enter New Zealand. Currently all critical health workers are able to enter New Zealand and are eligible for time sensitive and emergency allocation spots. The Ministry is aware of some critical health workers being denied emergency allocation spots and is working closely with MBIE to understand this.


Portfolio: Health (Hon Andrew Little)

Question: On what date did work commence on the policy to allocate MIQ spots for health workers?

Reply: The Ministry of Health has been supporting the entry of critical health workers into Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities (MIQF) by endorsing Time Sensitive Travel applications since July 2021. I am advised that work began on the policy to improve the allocation of managed isolation and quarantine spots for health workers with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on 13 October 2021 following the Ministry of Health started raising cases with MBIE in September.


Portfolio: COVID-19 Response (Hon Chris Hipkins)

Question: Is it correct, as reported by Stuff.co.nz, that "A Ministry of Health spokesperson says it has informed MBIE that access to MIQ spaces is a barrier for critical health workers to entering New Zealand", if so, when did it do so and how did it do so?

Reply: The Ministry of Health has been supporting the entry of critical health workers into Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities (MIQF) by endorsing Time Sensitive Travel applications since July 2021. The Ministry was subsequently informed of individual health workers who have been ineligible for MIQF allocations due to leaving New Zealand on compassionate grounds and returning to NZ to work in an existing role rather than a new role. The Ministry of Health has raised individual cases of ineligibility by email with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) since 20 September 2021, and raised the issue more broadly with MBIE on 10 October 2021.