The Government’s slow response to the coronavirus outbreak is putting New Zealanders at risk and failing to provide confidence to businesses already struggling in a slowing economy, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“While our major international partners are acting decisively to address the coronavirus outbreak, the Government is dragging its heels and delaying making the key decisions which are needed to give reassurance to Kiwis and businesses.
“New Zealand waited almost a week after the UK, Australia and the US to start flight screening and was days behind those countries in updating our Safetravel advice to advise Kiwis against travel to China.
“As it becomes clear the coronavirus outbreak will drag on for months, it’s important businesses get clear support and guidance from the Government as exports and tourism suffers. New Zealand is especially vulnerable given our reliance on China as a major trading partner so the Government needs to start leading on issues, not just waiting around to see what the rest of the world does.
“Westpac estimated on Monday that if New Zealand's current travel ban persists for two months, it will shrink the economy by 0.04 per cent for first quarter of the year. Businesses need to have confidence the Government will take the decision to end the ban when the evidence supports it, not waiting for days after the rest of the world.
“National would be leaders, not followers, in dealing with major outbreaks.”
Coronavirus response timeline can be found here
The Government is dragging the chain on vaping regulation, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The Prime Minister said today on the AM Show that for the Government to move fast on this issue it needs cross-party support. She failed to mention that National offered its support in September and the Government has done nothing since.
“Jacinda Ardern’s comments are disingenuous and do not bring us any closer to developing a much needed regulatory regime. If cross-party support is the problem then her own coalition partners are the ones not cooperating.
“Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa promised vaping legislation would be introduced last year, and once again the Government has failed to deliver on its promise.
“There are no excuses for the Minister’s inaction. National developed much of the legislation when it was last in Government. My colleague Nicky Wagner also has a Members’ Bill in the ballot addressing the issue.
“Parents are concerned that vapes are being marketed at children. They come in bright colours, have child-attractive flavours and are advertised liberally.
“We want to ensure vaping is a tool to help smokers quit, not an easily accessible habit for young teens.
“Regulation is needed quickly and the Government is dragging its heels at every turn. But National’s offer is still on the table.
“National is committed to working constructively to develop this necessary legislation. Now the Government needs to front up and get on with the job.”
The World Health Organisation’s decision to declare the coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern reinforces National’s call for the Government to increase its efforts to prevent the spread of the virus to New Zealand, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“Right now we are only screening for direct flights from China but this needs to be broadened to include all passengers who have travelled from or through affected countries.
“Another step the Government should be seriously considering is screening passengers arriving on cruise ships who have been through affected countries. It needs to also ensure cruise ship operators have sufficient information to provide to passengers especially on hygiene standards given how easily germs can spread on these ships.
“Given how quickly the virus is spreading through human to human contact, we need to ensure our screening measures are keeping pace.
“More health staff should be stationed at all our international airports, not just Auckland and Christchurch. Information and communication efforts to ensure passengers know what to do to stay safe and who to contact if they become unwell needs to be ramped up.
“Accommodation providers, tourism companies and other organisations should be contacted to ensure they have all the information and resources to detect and manage any individual who begins to show symptoms.
“I am particularly concerned our tertiary institutions and their Halls of Residences are not yet well prepared for the arrival of international students from affected countries. Orientation events will mean many students in close contact and serious consideration should be given to risk management.
“Above all the Government needs to show a great deal more urgency and transparency in the actions it is taking to keep the virus out than it is presently showing. Crossing fingers is not a strategy.”
The Government is acting far too slowly on bringing New Zealanders stranded in Wuhan home, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“There are 53 registered New Zealanders currently stuck in limbo, and this number is growing as more register, yet the Government cannot confirm if and when they will be evacuated.
“While other major nations are either actively evacuating citizens or making serious plans to do so, the Prime Minister is making excuses saying it would be ‘very difficult’ to evacuate New Zealand citizens, and would not confirm whether the Government would do so.
“It is understood the USA is close to a successful evacuation and other major nations are not far behind. But the Prime Minister’s response has been to put it in the too-hard basket.
“The New Zealanders stuck in Wuhan are desperate, scared and struggling to get consular assistance, the Government has a duty of care to act quickly for their sake.
“The Government is failing to act while the rest of the world is taking this situation seriously. They need to take action and get these Kiwis home.”
While the Government is currently failing to address the coronavirus situation effectively, there is a series of practical steps they should be taking, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“If the Government wanted to ensure New Zealanders’ safety and protect us from this virus, they should be implementing the following steps;
- Question passengers checking in on flights where they commenced travel from in China and their present health status
- Provide information in a variety of languages, not just Chinese, on the virus to all passengers flying into New Zealand of the risk, what signs and symptoms to look out for and who to contact if they become unwell
- Have public health staff in the arrivals halls of all international airports actively screening passengers
- Require customs officials to ask arriving passengers if they feel unwell
- Liaise with Australian authorities to ascertain any connections between those infected and New Zealand
- Connect with Chinese travel companies in New Zealand to monitor the health status of tour party individuals
- Provide advice to the public on how they can keep themselves safe
- Provide advice to schools on what they should be doing about international students arriving from China or domestic students who have holidayed in China
- Provide advice to accommodation providers and tourism operators on what to do if guests become unwell with virus symptoms
- Ensure general practitioners and public hospitals are familiar with protocols for managing international travellers presenting coronavirus symptoms
- Ensure sufficient protective equipment is available to health providers in the event of an outbreak
- Brief media regularly and provide reassurance to the public that everything possible is being done to keep Kiwis safe
“This should be the bare minimum in an event such as this. But as we’ve seen in the cases of meningococcal in Northland and measles, the Government’s responses to these issues is sadly lacking.
“The Government must take these proactive steps to ensure the coronavirus outbreak does not spread to New Zealand and give Kiwis confidence.”
As the risk of coronavirus continues to rise the Government is missing in action, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“Cases are continuing to emerge in Australia, the USA and the EU, while Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned that the virus is accelerating and labelled the spread a ‘grave situation’.
“The Government is failing to address the issue and ensure New Zealanders’ safety. There needs to be serious precautionary measures taken and these need to be communicated to the New Zealand public to ensure people’s safety.
“Schools will be going back soon and that means an influx of international students will be coming, yet the Government has failed to provide any reassurance or information on how this will be managed to parents and students.
“Much like we saw with the meningococcal disease in Northland and measles, the Government is asleep at the wheel when it comes to these sorts of events.
“They need to learn from their previous mistakes and ensure they implement all necessary precautions to protect New Zealand from coronavirus.”
The Government must take proactive steps to ensure the coronavirus outbreak does not spread to New Zealand and give Kiwis confidence, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“New viruses can rapidly spread across a population and take hold before symptoms become apparent. The prudent response would be to provide information to passengers arriving from affected countries and to screen visitors for early symptoms.
“These are strategies that have been introduced in Australia, America and many Asian countries. But the Government has been slow to take the same action to protect and reassure New Zealanders.
“Given Chinese New Year celebrations are nearly upon us, large numbers of expected international visitors, combined with large gatherings, increases the risk of the virus arriving in New Zealand and spreading.
“With reports Wuhan has stopped all public transport and flights to try to contain the deadly virus, it’s clear the Government is not doing enough to prevent the disease arriving in New Zealand.”
National is calling on the Government to:
- Make the coronavirus a specific notifiable disease
- Ask health questions on arrival about travel history and any symptoms for those who have travelled from affected areas
- Heightened health surveillance at international airports with appropriate equipment and staff and ensure all DHBs have outbreak protocols in place and sufficient protective equipment on hand.
“Associate Health Minister Julie-Anne Genter’s record on outbreak management is poor, with the meningococcal disease in Northland and dealing with measles across New Zealand being a case of ‘too little too late’. The Government must not make the same mistake a third time.”
The financial performance of DHBs continues to deteriorate on this Government’s watch and it’s causing real concern for the future of the health system, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
Recently published DHB Sector Financial Performance data revealed the combined deficit grew from $83 million in July and August 2018 to $103 million over the same period in 2019.
“The Government has promised much and delivered little on health, resulting in delays, deficits and denials for New Zealanders who need healthcare,” Mr Woodhouse says.
“Health Minister David Clark is putting DHBs in a parlous financial position through sheer incompetence.
“These latest figures showed a whopping 24 per cent increase in DHB deficits. That is unsustainable. All but one of New Zealand’s 20 DHBs are now in deficit.
“David Clark has shown little appetite or ability to remedy the situation. He’s out of his depth and he knows it, which is why he quietly released the data online over the summer period.
“The Health Minister has had ample opportunity to provide funding that would meet the costs he’s imposed on DHBs through salary settlements and increased spending commitments. His failure to do so has left DHBs between a rock and a hard place.
“Many DHBs have annual plans that are yet to be approved and they’re under pressure to slow recruitment of the much-needed staff to deliver the care Kiwis need.”
Health Minister David Clark’s refusal to set health targets is seeing standards slip nationwide and patients are suffering, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The first quarter statistics for the current financial year show significant slippage since this Government has been in office in critical areas of the health system.
“All 20 DHBs became worse at managing emergency department waiting times, 18 of the 20 DHBs were worse at getting smokers to quit and efforts to provide faster cancer treatment slipped in 14 DHBs. New Zealanders are waiting longer for crucial, often life-saving care and not getting the support they need.
“In elective surgeries, we know that there were nearly 6000 fewer procedures last year, the first decrease in a decade, but Dr Clark has stopped publishing data on the number of surgeries performed so we don’t even have first-quarter figures available. It’s clear he doesn’t believe he’s accountable to New Zealanders.
“What gets measured, gets done. Targets focus the health system and ensure that health professionals get results that make a difference to patients’ lives.
“They’re an indicator of the strength of our health system, as well as an important way to ensure New Zealanders have confidence in the services being provided to them.
“It’s regrettable that, in the so-called Year of Delivery, Dr Clark delivered nothing but delays, deficits and denials for New Zealanders who need healthcare.”
The Health Minister’s first act of 2020 should be to establish a ministerial inquiry into PHARMAC’s decision to switch to Logem – the generic form of epilepsy drug lamotrigine – given it’s now suspected to have caused five deaths, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“PHARMAC’s decision to only fund Logem affected about 90 per cent of patients with epilepsy. Given the scale of that change, it’s imperative that questions around the proposed risks are answered.
“The tragic news that it’s suspected to have caused the death of a young father just before Christmas, as well as four deaths reported earlier in 2019, suggests the brand switch put lives at risk.
“Medsafe and patients raised concerns about the switch before it went ahead.
“While a coronial investigation is ongoing, questions remain about whether or not Health Minister David Clark was involved in the decision-making process and why PHARMAC appears not to have taken action when news of a patient’s death was first received.
“News of a possible fifth death in relation to the switch to Logem only increases questions around whether the risks of the drug switch were appropriately assessed.
“What’s more, it appears PHARMAC knew about the first patient death possibly being linked to the drug switch and took no action for a month. The public deserves to know why.
“The ministerial inquiry that National has been calling for since November is the appropriate way of getting those answers. It will consider all of the issues in relation to the brand switch, something the coroner cannot do.”