Kia ora koutou
The way everybody across the Health and Disability sector is rallying together to support our communities at this time has been inspiring. Examples include the team at Christchurch Hospital’s Hagley building fast tracking a new ICU, Hutt Hospital renovating offices to reinstate a former ICU to provide additional capacity if needed, and North Shore Hospital has re-purposed an entire building to ensure Covid-19 patients can be cared for separately. This level of preparedness gives confidence to New Zealanders that the health and disability sector is doing everything possible to ensure they are able to provide the necessary support as cases increase and I thank you all for your efforts.
We are aware that that volumes of people getting in touch with their GP or making appointments to be seen virtually/by phone has dropped. One concern is that non-Covid-19 health issues left unchecked will cause increased pressure on DHBs as conditions escalate. We are encouraging people through our public facing channels to continue to contact their GP or Healthline if they are feeling unwell and assuring them that all practices have processes in place to keep them safe if they do need to visit in person.
Connecting with our communities
I’ve heard stories of how GPs and clinicians are going to great efforts to ensure their Māori and Pacific communities are well informed on Covid-19 by translating existing content. The Ministry is working to extend our reach into these communities which started with a social media campaign this past weekend. The campaign includes daily live sessions with Māori health experts on Māori TV's Facebook page as well as other activities to inform whānau Māori and promote the message, 'He noho kāinga, he oranga tangata | Stay home, save lives.’
An increasing range of Pacific-language content is being made available on the www.covid19.govt.nz site, with new content being added each week and a national network of Pacific clinicians has been established. We are engaging with national and regional Pacific media channels on a daily basis (primarily radio, but also social media platforms and Tagata Pasifika) providing key Covid-19 messages both in English and a variety of Pacific languages.
Thank you to our teams supporting Healthline, which since the start of March has supported more than 166,000 New Zealanders with health advice and information. Healthline has now employed and trained 600 extra people, including 100 new work-from-home staff who can answer calls from all around the country and has also set up five new contact centres (eight in total). Recent improvements to technology also mean less issues connecting and wait times have been reducing over the last 10 days.
I know PPE is top of mind for many of you so wanted to update you on our stock. Over the last seven days we have distributed 1.8 million masks to DHBs and the health and disability sector. On Tuesday, we confirmed an order of 41 million face masks that start to arrive from today and continue to be delivered over the next six weeks. We ‘ve placed an order for 500,000 isolation gowns, 30,000 face shields and 50,000 goggles which are scheduled to arrive over the coming weeks. We’re also working to secure an additional 20 million masks per month from another supplier.
In terms of our national distribution model, we’ve asked DHBs to lead the distribution of face masks to health and disability providers within their region. From the middle of next week our expectation is that DHBs will have established a weekly reorder cycle with providers. The Ministry of Health will then distribute that PPE directly to those providers to simplify logistics and ease the pressure on DHBs. This will be done through a PPE online ordering system that will soon be available of the Ministry of Health website.
New Case Definition
You will have seen that last week we issued a new case definition recommended by the Technical Advisory Group. The change means that anyone with relevant symptoms can be tested with or without a travel history or contact with a confirmed case. This will result in more testing which we are absolutely prepared for.
This World Health Organization Situation Report has a good summary of the current evidence and thinking around transmission of Covid-19. It reiterates the point that most transmission is from symptomatic people and that even (rare) presymptomatic transmission is via the same route, so can be prevented with good hygiene practices.
We’re publicly reporting some details about significant clusters with 10 or more confirmed or probably cases on our website, but all clusters are closely investigated by public health officials. While we may not share many details about these clusters to protect people’s privacy, I can assure you that public health staff are working hard on contact tracing to find any other people who may have been exposed to this disease.
Community Service Provider Sustainability
I would like to acknowledge and thank all community providers for the work you're doing to meet and support the needs of New Zealanders. I know that some providers have raised questions about contractual arrangements during this time.
The Ministry of Health and District Health Boards have agreed an approach to supporting the sustainability of our community service providers, and their ability to both provide services and care for their workforce.
We are actively working to make contact with every service provider, with over 1,000 letters sent already from the Ministry this week. If you have any questions on your particular contract, please get in touch with your contract manager in the first instance.
I have also heard that some providers are experiencing additional costs and loss of revenue because of the measures in place to control COVID-19. I want to assure you that the Government is actively considering these issues.
I’ve been heartened by the response we’ve had to our call for health and care support workers to put themselves forward to be a part of our surge capacity workforce. So far, we have had more than 7500 people sign up, including doctors, nurses, midwives, medical laboratory scientists, physiotherapists, health care assistants and care workers and this number continues to grow. We are now in the process of matching those skills to employer requests and expect to confirm our first placements very soon.
As always, my sincere thanks to you and your teams for your continued commitment to keeping the health and disability support system going during extraordinary times.
Ngâ mihi nui
Dr Ashley Bloomfield
Director-General of Health