The Government’s much-hyped tracing app is not fit for purpose and doesn’t fulfil the requirements of the law, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The Prime Minister teased the contact tracing app as an alternative to giving your details to a business, but the Ministry of Health has admitted it is not a substitute for signing a contact tracing register at a restaurant.
“Once again we have a disconnect between what the Prime Minister has said and what the official guidance says. This has the potential to cause confusion for thousands of businesses just trying to do the right thing.
“The Prime Minister should use her daily platform to provide clarity. The risk now is that businesses believe the app is a replacement for keeping a contact tracing register, only to be pulled up by the Ministry when they don’t have one.
“The Government has clearly rushed out an app at the taxpayers’ expense that doesn’t meet the Public Health Order and can’t even be used as the Prime Minister claims.
“Once again this is a first-rate announcement and a third-rate delivery.”
Midwives have been repeatedly ignored by this Government and this year’s Budget is no exception, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The previous National Government reached a settlement agreement with the New Zealand College of Midwives (NZCOM) to develop a new funding model. The current Government has stopped this work in its tracks and midwives are yet to see any progress.
“The Ministry of Health (MOH) web page which provides updates on the work with the maternity sector hasn’t been updated for nearly a year. There are vague references in the budget to a Maternity Action Plan being concluded, but there is no timeline, no commitment and, above all, no money to deliver on the Co-design recommendations that the Minister has had for two and a half years.
“MOH was forced to apologise for breaching the settlement agreement in January last year by not including a budget bid for in Budget 2018. The apology now rings hollow considering midwives have missed out yet again in the Budget.
“What’s worse is that all expectations were that this would be the year midwives would finally be recognised, but NZCOM weren’t told they were missing out until an hour before the Budget was announced.
“It is a massive kick in the teeth to continue ignoring midwives in what is International Year of the Midwife. National has promised in our Health Discussion Document to settle this issue should we form a Government.
“To be overlooked one year is bad enough, and two years in a row is disrespectful. But three years without progress is completely unacceptable and severely risks us losing the midwives who are so important to New Zealand’s workforce. This must be remedied immediately.”
Despite the increased pressure it will be under in the wake of Covid-19 the Government has failed to provide meaningful improvement to the health system in Budget 2020, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The words ‘maintain’ and ‘sustain’ are used almost a dozen times in the overview of Health initiatives, but unfortunately the words ‘improve’ and ‘increase’ are far less frequent.
“Billions of dollars are being spent but are being used to do little more than maintain the status quo and pay for past deficits, while coalition promises such as increasing the age for free breast screening to 74 have been completely forgotten.
“Hundreds of millions have been allocated to our DHBs but this will do little more than pay for their plummeting financial performance under this Government.
“This Government has a terrible record on delivering positive health outcomes for New Zealanders and as a result there have been increased wait times, scrapped health targets and delayed elective surgeries.
“Once again Labour has poured huge amounts of taxpayer dollars into the health system with no apparent idea on how to provide the improvements New Zealanders deserve.”
It is a damning indictment of the Government’s priorities that the racing industry is getting more additional funding in Budget 2020 than Pharmac, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says
“On Sunday the Government gave Pharmac an extra $10 million for the next financial year, today we learnt that Winston Peters is giving racing multiple times that.
“There is going to be increased pressure for medicines as a result of the Covid-19 crisis and we need to be prepared. It is insulting to give more money to horses than health during a pandemic.
“We welcome the much-needed funding for our District Health Boards (DHBs) this morning. But DHBs had a net deficit of over $1 billion last year and this funding isn’t even going to cover that.
“The financial performance of our DHBs has nosedived under this Government and as a result there has been increased wait times, scrapped health targets and delayed elective surgeries.
“Covid-19 has created even more pressure on our health system, with a significant backlog of missed surgeries and screenings needing to be caught up on.
“It will take a long time to clear this backlog and the Government’s record on delivering health outcomes is poor.
“Our DHBs have been left between a rock and a hard place by a Minister who has let them sink into enormous deficits over the past two years. And now we’re seeing the Government prioritise horses over essential medicines.”
The Government’s increase to Pharmac funding is a pathetic shadow of what is needed just to maintain medicine supplies and will actually limit New Zealanders’ ability to access important medication, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The $10 million increase to Pharmac in 2020-21 is less than 1 per cent of its baseline and falls well short of inflation. It pales in comparison to the previous National Government’s annual increases, which averaged to $24 million a year.
“At a time of real need it beggars belief that the Government is skimping on funding. There is going to be increased pressure for medicines as a result of the Covid-19 crisis and we need to be prepared.
“The Health Minister admits the increase isn’t a ramp-up. I would go further and say that it is a significant ramp-down in real funding.
“Dr Clark continues to portray the previous switch of $114.2 million in 2018/19 as a net increase in medicines funding when in fact it was simply a transfer of purchasing power from hospitals to Pharmac to purchase medicines already being purchased by hospitals.
“It was a bit like transferring money from your cheque account to your savings, at the end of the day you’re not any better off.
“Today’s announcement means it will be tougher for patients to get the drugs they need and they will be the ones missing out. We have already seen a spending commitment on Keytruda delayed due to fiscal constraints and this announcement makes similar decisions more likely.
“Instead of trying to mislead the public and pretend they’re addressing the issue with spin, the Government needs to front up and ensure our hospitals and Pharmac have the support needed to get the job done.”
David Clark has admitted he doesn’t know how many close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases the Ministry of Health cannot reach, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“In written responses to questions from my office, the Health Minister revealed his ministry doesn’t have this information to hand, raising serious questions about the Government’s readiness for level 3.
“It’s not good enough to say this information can’t be compiled quickly. This is crucial data about potential Covid-19 carriers in our communities that should be at the Minister’s fingertips.
“Not only does the Minister not know how many close contacts the Ministry of Health hasn’t been able to contact, he also can’t say what the average time for contact tracing is.
“The Prime Minister said that before we come out of level 4 we need assurance about the speed and capacity of contact tracing, yet the Minister of Health hasn’t been able to provide this with the country about to move to level 3.
“If Kiwis are to have confidence that we’re ready to come out of level 4 then the Government needs to be able to clearly state how long the average contact tracing time is and how many people they have failed to trace.
“It begs the question, why don’t we have a contact-tracing app in this country yet when Australia now has one and many Asian countries have been using them for some time. Surely this should have been a priority before moving to level 3.
“Kiwis have been doing the hard work over the last five weeks to break the chain of transmission and save lives. The Government needs to fulfil their side of the deal.”
Dr Ayesha Verrall’s report into the Government’s contact tracing regime for Covid-19 paints a very different picture to what is being portrayed in Government press conferences, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“Despite Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield today describing their contact tracing regime as being good, the report highlights that what the Government has in place is completely lacklustre.
“It shows a system where data collection, reporting and join-up is poor and to this day there is a general lack of timeliness.
“Despite being conducted two weeks into lockdown, the report made no fewer than six ‘urgent’ or ‘critical’ recommendations on how to improve New Zealand’s contact tracing ability.
“As a direct comparison Australia has more than four times the number of contact tracing staff and is able to do end-to-end contact tracing in three days, while in New Zealand it takes more than two days just to instruct a contact to isolate.
“At the time of the audit only 60 per cent of contacts could be easily reached by phone, either because of incorrect contact details or because people choose not to answer calls from an unidentified number. These are the basics.
“Tracing work is split between local Public Health Units and the National Close Contact Service but they’re not even able to see each other’s work.
“Despite the obvious shortcomings in our contract tracing when compared with Australia being highlighted by Opposition members of the Epidemic Response Select Committee on 14 April, the Government waited over a week to release this report because they knew the contents would be damning. They should have fronted up to what wasn’t working and fixed it.
“New Zealanders have sacrificed a lot to give us the best chance of beating this virus. The Government needs to get things like tracing under control to make sure it’s not for nothing.”
Dr Ayesha Verrall’s report can be found here
The Government’s ‘major investment’ for personal protective equipment announced today is another example of it being too slow to act, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“Today Minister of Health David Clark claimed the Government has ‘stepped up its support’ in the response to Covid-19, but this rings hollow to many frontline health workers.
“The $200 million Dr Clark is claiming is not new money or new investment, it was clearly set aside for PPE in the 17 March $12 billion package. The Government has chosen not to spend it yet, despite many frontline health workers crying out for more PPE.
“If the Government had spent this investment when it was first announced, then the majority of the PPE needed could have been in New Zealand already by now and be in use.
“Instead, the Government has waited until 128 healthcare workers have tested positive for Covid-19 before finally fronting up with the equipment needed. The Government has also said this PPE is going to arrive over the next eight weeks which will be of little comfort to those who need it now.
“While the initial peak of cases has passed, the Government needs to expect significant demand for PPE for several months yet and plan accordingly, rather than be constantly playing catch up.”
Not enough New Zealanders are being tested for Covid-19 and the Government needs to get on top of it, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“With Australia reporting global shortages, the Minister needs to provide assurances to New Zealanders that we have sufficient testing supplies. Right now, they don’t even know how many they have.
“The public need to know how many days of testing at 1500 tests a day we can do. It’s not good enough that the Minister of Health can’t answer that question.
“For weeks it has been too hard to get tested. You have to go on Healthline for hours, are then told to contact a doctor and you need to have both symptoms and close contact to meet the criteria.
“If you need to self-isolate – you need to be tested.
“South Korea has shown how testing can get this virus under control and the World Health Organisation is saying ‘test, test, test’. Getting New Zealanders tested is the most important job the Minister has right now.
“Daily testing updates should also be provided alongside the case announcements to provide reassurance to Kiwis.
“National has been calling for more action in relation to testing for some time, it is long overdue for the Government to step up their regime by broadening the criteria.
“The criteria was widened to test the students at Logan Park High School earlier this week. This needs to be the new normal and the criteria should be broadened for everyone who needs to go into self-isolation.
“If we’re getting people tested sooner rather than later they can shorten the self-isolation period and enter back into the workforce.
“No expense should be spared in the fight against coronavirus. The Government must ensure all Kiwis are tested if they have symptoms.”
National is calling on the Government to widen its Covid-19 testing criteria so that anyone displaying clear symptoms can be tested, Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The rigid restrictions we have here are preventing people with Covid-19 symptoms from being tested, and are potentially hiding a much bigger coronavirus problem in New Zealand.
“The Government is only allowing tests for people with symptoms who have returned from a small list of countries or can prove close contact with a confirmed case.
“This is too restrictive and too many concerned Kiwis with coronavirus symptoms are being denied tests. There is no reason why tests should be rationed in New Zealand.
“The case of education worker Pippa Biggs, highlighted in media reports this morning, is troubling. She says she and her three children have symptoms that ‘tick the boxes’ for coronavirus but she can’t get tested because she can’t prove contact with a confirmed case.
“While news of only five Covid-19 cases and no community outbreak here is positive, our concern is that a lack of testing is the real reason New Zealand has so few confirmed cases.
“New Zealand’s test rate is shockingly low compared to other countries, at only 70 tests per million. Countries that have high numbers of confirmed cases also have much more comprehensive testing than we do.
“Italy is performing more than 800 tests per million people and the UK is performing almost 500 tests per million.
“Other countries are proactively testing for Covid-19 despite having few confirmed cases. We need to close the barn door on this virus before the horse bolts.
Examples of people who would fall foul of New Zealand’s current testing criteria include:
- A person entering New Zealand from Germany (where there are 2000+ cases) who has a strong cough.
- A person who sat next to a confirmed case on a 5-hour flight but is not displaying symptoms.
- Someone who was in hospital with a probable case and now has a fever.
“Testing for Covid-19 in New Zealand also appears confused. Pippa Biggs reportedly can’t get tested, yet NZ First MP Tracey Martin will be despite reportedly showing no symptoms.
“While we support Tracey Martin getting tested, and hope she remains in good health, the apparent inconsistency in who can access coronavirus tests is a worry.
“No expense should be spared in the fight against coronavirus. The Government must ensure all Kiwis are tested if they have symptoms.”