New data shows alarming ICU occupancy rates

No one is buying Health Minister Andrew Little’s figures of available ICU beds as new figures reveal an increasingly stretched system, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

Information revealed through parliamentary questions has shown high ICU occupancy rates in DHBs even before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.

“The new location of interest announced in the Hawkes Bay is particularly alarming given that DHB has the highest ICU occupancy rate, with full capacity 36 per cent of the time over the current outbreak, followed by Wairarapa and Lakes DHBs,” Dr Reti says.

“Capacity and occupancy rates also need to be monitored in DHBs with high Māori populations like Northland, Lakes, Tairāwhiti and Whanganui.

“The Minister keeps repeating that there are 340 standing beds, but intensivist Dr Paul Young at Capital & Coast DHB has suggested the Minister is dreaming, and the Australia and New Zealand Society of Intensive Care says there are only 186.

“Nurses are saying they are overwhelmed. Everyone agrees that no new beds have been added in the past year, and no one is buying the fudging of surge beds to make the number look bigger.

“The Minister’s plan should have included having more standing ICU beds so as to not rely as heavily on surge capacity and lockdowns.

“The latest Delta lockdown has already seen 85,000 inpatient procedures cancelled, and an escalation to surge capacity will likely cancel even more vital procedures like chemotherapy, as resources are diverted to the surge areas.

“The training for ICU nurses – four hours online and four hours on a mannequin – just doesn’t cut it. On top of that, we’ve had ICU nurses both offshore and onshore ready to start.

“Introducing health system restructuring legislation next week in the middle of a pandemic with triple digit cases is simply unfathomable, and shows just how removed from the COVID-19 interface the Minister really is.

“The Minister must approach this in the short, medium and long terms. In the short term, he should sack the 20 Wellington restructuring consultants charging $6 million a year and immediately create eight new ICU beds.

“In the medium term, he should use the $100 million for restructuring from the $486 million announced in this year’s health budget to instead increase ICU capacity by 30 per cent across the whole sector.

“In the long term, he should use the remaining $350 million to build a new medical school for doctors and nurses to pipeline them into the health sector.

“This Health Minister is continually showing himself to have no plan and no proper grasp of priorities, and frankly New Zealanders deserve much better.”

Portfolio: Health (Hon Andrew Little)
Question: Which DHBs, if any, have been at full occupancy for resourced ICU beds, from Aug 17 2021 to the present, listed by DHB and number of days and as a percentage of days of full occupancy across the whole time period ?
Reply: I am advised that information on resourced intensive care unit (ICU) and high dependency unit (HDU) beds is not available prior to 24 August 2021, and as such, information has been provided from that date. I refer the Member to the attached table. It is important to note that the occupancy rate of ICU/HDU beds is taken as a midnight census for each date and that district health boards (DHBs) do not report weekend occupancy outside alert levels three or four, and so this excludes weekend reporting after 11 September 2021. In addition, DHBs with small numbers of ICU/HDU beds may see significant daily fluctuation in occupancy rates.

You can find the attachments to Written Parliamentary Questions (WPQs) here and here.