The 2009 swine flu pandemic cost the New Zealand hospital
sector about $31 million, a University of Otago study has
The researchers also found the "true cost" of the H1N1
pandemic to the New Zealand health system would be
substantially higher as the study looked only at hospitals
and not primary care and public health services.
Given uncertainties in the data, the range for the cost to
the hospital sector was $22 million to $40 million.
The study was published in The New Zealand Medical Journal
alongside a second Otago study looking at the strengths and
weaknesses of the health sector's response to the pandemic -
its authors lamenting the lack of a "comprehensive review"
after the outbreak.
The study looking into the cost showed on average it cost
$17,000 per patient (average stay six days).
For those going to an intensive care unit (ICU) it was
$97,000 per patient (average stay 12 days).
The study's lead author, Associate Prof Nick Wilson, said
despite the fact the swine flu pandemic was "relatively mild"
compared with previous ones, it still killed 49 people, sent
1122 people to hospital and 102 were so sick that they needed
Co-author Associate Prof Michael Baker said the high cost of
the pandemic showed there was potentially value in further
work on preventive measures, such as influenza vaccines and
investing in pandemic planning and other control measures.
The second Otago University study found the response by the
public health, primary care and hospital sectors was
successful overall, but not without a few weaknesses.
These weaknesses inclu-ded the lack of a detailed review of
the overall response and studies to identify risk factors for
hospitalisation and death.
Dr Wilson said the lack of a comprehensive review was
"clearly an oversight" given that future pandemics were
"certain to occur".
Governments needed to be "a bit smarter" about doing reviews
of disaster response, he said.
"They should not just commission reviews of disasters where
it was obvious that things went badly wrong like the Pike
River Mine," Dr Wilson said.
Health Minister Tony Ryall told the Otago Daily Times
yesterday that the Ministry of Health carried out internal
operational reviews and that he commissioned an independent
external review into the response to the swine flu pandemic.
New Zealand's response was "well regarded both nationally and
internationally", Mr Ryall said.
"For example, the World Health Organisation now regularly
request expert technical advice from the Ministry of Health
on pandemic preparedness and response," Mr Ryall said.