Message from the Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield – 12 May 2020

12 May 2020

Kia ora koutou
Today, International Day of the Nurse, is an opportunity for us to celebrate and recognise our nurses for their compassion, professionalism and commitment to caring for patients. Our nurses make up about half of our health and disability workforce. Join with me in thanking them for their work, especially over this unprecedented time.

Yesterday, the Government announced that we will move to Alert Level 2 at 11.59pm on Wednesday 13 May.
Moving to COVID-19 Level 2 means we are confident there is a very low risk of undetected community transmission and that the disease is contained. This is a significant milestone in our strategy to eliminate COVID-19 and it’s due in large part to the extraordinary efforts of the health and disability sector – so thank you.
Many community health providers will restart providing services and DHBs will continue to increase the delivery of Planned Care, including elective surgery. As always, keeping staff and patients safe still remains a top priority, and the Ministry is working closely with sector representatives to develop guidance about health and disability services at Alert Level 2. This will be available on our website soon.
At Alert Level 2:
·        Virtual appointments (online or telephone) are encouraged wherever possible, for outpatient, GP, and community health appointments.
·        Hospital visiting arrangements must prioritise the safety of patients, visitors and staff while also enabling the very important human interactions which we know mean so much when people are unwell. In high risk areas such as emergency departments, intensive care and maternity, the general principle is for one visitor and one visit per day. In other hospital areas, it's still one visitor at a time but more than one person is able to visit during the day. Each visitor can only visit once.
·        All visitors to aged residential care facilities will be assessed for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and will be asked about their travel history and history of contact of people with COVID-19. General family visits are allowed but there are restrictions on the number of family members visiting and frequency of visiting.
·        Aged residential care facilities will operation at their full scope with appropriate health control measures in place. Planned respite and urgent respite care will be available.
·        In all settings, infection prevention and control measures must be followed, and physical distancing should be to the greatest extent possible.
Whatever Alert Level 2 looks like for your organisation, a focus on safety and protection will need to remain. COVID-19 is still present in New Zealand so we all need to play it safe to avoid a second wave.

Initiatives to support the health and disability workforce
Today the Government announced three initiatives as part of it’s ongoing COVID-19 Response Package. These initiatives support our workforce through accommodation, mental health support and access to specialist clinical advice on COVID-19.
Temporary accommodation for health and disability workers
Frontline workers, in our hospitals, aged care and other residential facilities and in the community, who need to stay away from their homes during COVID-19 to keep their whânau safe may qualify for funded temporary accommodation.
Further information about eligibility and the process to access funded temporary accommodation is available on the Ministry’s website.
Phone counselling service for frontline workers
An 0800 number has been set up to provide extra support to frontline health workers who may be experiencing distress or heightened anxiety at this challenging time. Any frontline health and support worker can call 0800 820 080 to talk with a trained and experienced mental health professional.
0800 COVID-19 clinical advice number for community health providers.
A dedicated phone line for community health providers including general practice nurses, nurse practitioners, doctors, pharmacists, midwives and aged residential care providers has been established.
The helpline will offer general advice about management of COVID-19, peer review of presenting problems and advice on specialist referral or connection to other services.
The number is 0800 177 622, and is now operational, offering clinical support and advice Monday to Saturday 8am -7pm (with the exception of public holidays).

Budget 2020
The Ministry has been working closely with the Government ahead of Budget 2020, the full details of which will be announced later this week.
The Government has already announced significant investment in DHBs for both hospital and community based health services, as well as additional funding for medicines as part of Budget 2020. More information on these announcements can be found here and here.

Testing for COVID-19
Testing is an essential part of our elimination strategy and is the key starting point for identifying and containing the spread of the virus. Our COVID-19 testing capability and planning is up to the task of detecting and quickly containing the disease if it re-emerges when we move down alert levels and begin moving outside our bubbles.
The first COVID-19 test was completed in New Zealand by ESR on the 1st of February. Now we have the capacity to perform up to 12,535 tests per day. Already, nearly 200,000 tests have been completed in New Zealand, around 4% of the population. This is a testament to how our health services including labs were able to gear up in response to COVID-19 and protect New Zealanders. It’s a major reason for our success to date.

Mâori influenza immunisation rates
Over half of Mâori aged 65 and over have had their influenza vaccination. This is double the rate for the same time last year. Protecting this vulnerable group, whose immunisation rates have historically been significantly lower than those of the wider population, is vital.
Thank you for your efforts to ensure older Mâori are able to access influenza vaccination. The initiatives that have helped to achieve this higher immunisation rate are definitely something we want to continue and take forward into the future influenza seasons. It’s great to see higher uptake than ever by all New Zealanders, in particular vulnerable children and adults, and older people.

Arohanui Health Heroes
New Zealanders really got behind this campaign to acknowledge all our health and disability workers. Many made videos to say thanks for everything you, and your families, have done to keep us all safe.
If you haven’t seen any of the videos, it is worth taking a look by searching #ArohanuiHealthHeroes on Facebook or looking at the ones we’ve shared on the Ministry’s Facebook page.
Ngâ mihi nui

Dr Ashley Bloomfield

Director-General of Health