Kia ora koutou
As you well know we are now in COVID-19 Alert Level 4 – Eliminate. I want to start by acknowledging all the health and disability support workers and those delivering essential services in New Zealand at this extraordinary time.
I would appreciate if you would also share this message with your staff. Every day they and their families make a choice to protect NZ and it’s not something we take for granted.
I want to thank you all for the incredibly hard work you are doing – and will continue to do – in trying circumstances. I know this is a stressful time for you and your teams on the front line, and those supporting you, especially as we expect the number of cases to increase for at least the next ten days. But I want to reassure you that we are all in this together.
Initial measures to slow down the spread of the virus have given the health sector valuable time to prepare and learn from overseas experience, and that has already made a significant difference in our joint ability to cope with the spread of the virus.
As I said last week, this has only been able to be achieved because of the enormous degree of co-operation across the health sector.
The team at the Ministry continues to work at pace to make sure we support the frontline health and disability workers to look after our communities.
I want to update you on some key areas of importance right now. I will continue to provide updates to you over the coming weeks as we “unite against Covid-19”.
We are working closely with DHBs to support them in preparing for COVID-19 hospital demands. Hospitals around the country have had varying impacts from COVID-19 in their region, so the specific actions needing to be taken at each DHB will vary. And that will continue to be the case as we progress.
Of course, all hospitals are prioritising the continuation of critical healthcare (including some planned care and elective services) while keeping their patients, staff and community safe. I am pleased to see a range of approaches being taken to reduce the number of people who need to visit a hospital in person, for example by moving towards telephone or online appointments for some outpatient services. This will limit the opportunities for transmission of the virus and will free up hospital resources for more urgent and acute care.
Overall, we have confidence in our supply chain for medical supplies. While internationally supply chains are becoming fragmented in a range of areas, we are still receiving the products we’re expecting. We will keep you posted across all areas about this. I’d like to take this opportunity to address some specific areas.
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
We want to make sure our health and disability workforce is protected.
I want to assure you that there is good stock of all PPE gear in the country right now and we are strengthening the process for ensuring it gets to the right places. We were also prepared. The Ministry of Health has good stock in the national reserves and DHBs also have their own reserves for when we need it. And we are leaving no stone unturned in terms of finding ways to replenish the stock we have already.
We are setting up a nationally co-ordinated approach for sourcing and distributing additional PPE to the health sector and essential workers whose work requires it. I will continue to update you on this.
It is important though that the PPE equipment is used appropriately and there is clear clinical guidance on the Ministry of Health’s website for how it should be used.
There is no issue with the medicine supply chain. However, PHARMAC has announced a change to the pharmaceutical schedule to address the issue of stockpiling by individuals.
Pharmacists will be limited to providing only one month’s supply of prescribed medicines, or a limit of three months for the supply of oral contraceptives.
There will be no change to the way prescriptions are issued; it is simply a change to the amount of medicine able to be distributed by the pharmacy for each prescribed medicine.
Pharmacists are still able to make exceptions to provide additional amounts where people live remotely or for individuals with disability and would have difficulty in more regular refills of prescriptions.
It will come as no surprise to you that we may need more healthcare workers to support our response to COVID-19 including to ensure sick workers can stay home. We have already been asking retired health professionals, who are willing and able, to express their interest in helping with our response to COVID-19. And I’m heartened that over 2,500 have come forward so far.
However, we need more so we are prepared. We are now also asking current health workers who may be available when non-essential services are paused, to express their interest in being redeployed as needed. We are seeking people to work in both general and clinically specialised roles as we scale up the health and care workforce.
We are partnering with Accent Health to manage this process on our behalf. For health workers, Accent will be collecting information about their availability, co-ordinating re-registration with the relevant regulatory Council where required, and then supporting the process to get them deployed as and when needed.
Please consider who in your teams might be in a position to register their interest and direct them to our website.
Childcare for essential workers
In order to free up some of our essential health sector workers to stay working, the Government has made arrangements so they can access funded, in home childcare. Where possible, essential workers need to make their own arrangements for childcare, due to limited capacity.
Please let essential workers in your organisation know that they qualify for this support if needed.
More information is available at www.covid19.govt.nz
Mental Health and Wellbeing
Through these extraordinary times, it’s important we all take care of our physical health, and equally important that we take care of our mental health. Everyone will be responding differently to this situation and it is important for people to know that it is completely normal. Please ensure staff know how and where to get any support they need.
I will provide you with regular updates about what we are doing at the Ministry and (where possible) what we can expect over the next couple of weeks. As always, the Ministry of Health’s website is the best source of up-to-date health information.
Thank you once again for all your hard work and dedication in containing COVID-19 for New Zealand.
Ngâ mihi nui
Dr Ashley Bloomfield