There are fears within the healthcare industry that the ICU system may not be able to cope if the Delta outbreak escalates, but the health minister says anyone with Covid-19 in New Zealand will be cared for.
Health Minister Andrew Little said Morning report there was pressure on hospitals and progress was being made to incorporate more nurses to care for Covid-19 patients in intensive care units.
“That is why last year we started the program of providing additional training for more nurses, now nearly 1,400, to work in an ICU setting. Even if they are not fully qualified ICU nurses, they can work in an ICU setting.”
Little said that plan had worked in Britain.
He said ICU capacity utilization nationwide was between 65 and 70 percent, and total hospital utilization was between 80 and 85 percent.
“So there is some capacity available.”
He said that in the coming months, people with Covid-19 could be sure that they would be cared for.
There were about 100 ICU beds available at this time, he said.
“We can increase up to 550 beds of ICU or HDU level care.
“That will put planned care at risk, so people will lose planned care operations and all that.”
He said the ministry would work with DHBs to help eliminate the delay.
Since the pandemic began, about 100 more ICU beds have been added nationwide, Little said.
Specialists have said that nurses were already overloaded and there was pressure to keep up with treatment for patients who did not have Covid-19.
Little said there was a great capacity to fill crucial nursing gaps on short notice.
“We know there is a shortage right now, but like other health professionals, they are dealing with vulnerable people and vulnerable populations.
“It’s about keeping people safe, they need to get vaccinated.”
He said the Ministry of Health will dialogue with midwives if mandatory vaccinations cause shortages in a sector that already has a labor shortage.
“For those who doubt, there is the opportunity to obtain more and better information and with the professional organizations of which they are part and the health authorities.
“I’m sure we will get through this.”
He said the emphasis was on increasing vaccination numbers “because it will not be safe to reduce restrictions until we achieve that level of vaccination, beyond 85 percent that we can go up to 90 percent and hopefully beyond.” .
National on mandatory vaccinations
The National Party supports the government’s vaccination mandate for teachers, but is not keen on it going further.
School staff caring for children must be fully vaccinated by January 1, and high-risk health and disability workers must be fully vaccinated by December 1.
National Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop said Morning report that until now there were unvaccinated healthcare workers caring for Covid-19 patients, “most people would think it’s a little crazy.”
“Caring for the elderly is also a real area of concern because it deals with vulnerable populations, older people, so that’s obvious.
“Teachers are more complicated. The starting point from which I come … bodily autonomy is important, freedom of choice.
“The state is not normally in the business of imposing medical procedures on people, like vaccinations.”
Bishop said that going ahead with the mandate would be difficult to justify under the Bill of Rights.
But he said the party supported it for teachers because of the risk to children, as those under 12 cannot currently be vaccinated.
“These are children who currently cannot be vaccinated. The evidence is that teachers can actually transmit Covid to young people.
“We support the mandate of the teachers. It is a sensitive issue and I think the government recognizes it, but at the end of the day, it is the right to do.”
Bishop said he would not completely rule out supporting vaccine mandates for other sectors.