Coronavirus: Hospitals at 'breaking point' amid outbreak

Hospitals are at breaking point and it's sparking huge concern for the safety of staff as the coronavirus outbreak worsens, a union boss warns.

"The whole hospital system is really stretched and I'm really worried about how DHBs are going to handle this added pressure," Dr Deborah Powell, national secretary for the New Zealand Resident Doctors Association, told the Herald.

The Ministry of Health says it is aware of the increased pressure and was working with District Health Boards to address the issue.

Powell's comments come after the Ministry of Health confirmed New Zealand's fifth case of Covid-19 on Saturday. No new cases have been reported since.

She said hospital staff were burnt out, struggling and in desperate need for better support from their district health board bosses.

"There's been a lack of communication from the DHB employers about how they were going to manage this added pressure that will likely go on for months."

She said of extra concern was that flu season is fast-approaching, which would likely add to the overload.

"If the public can do anything to help relieve some of the pressure it would be to get a flu vaccination, which will be rolled out earlier this year, in April, due to coronavirus."

She said due to our country's growing ageing population, the pressure on hospitals is continuing to increase.

"In the last five years there has been no real commitment from DHBs to increase its staffing levels - and now with coronavirus it's even worse."

Powell said usually there was a summer dip and a winter peak but this year there's been no easing off during the summer and it has taken a huge toll on staff.

"DHBs need to be looking after their staff and that's not doing the bare minimum."

One DHB spokesman told the Herald our hospitals were not at capacity.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said hundreds of close contacts of the five confirmed cases had been identified, including 43 staff from North Shore Hospital.

Graphic: NZ Herald
Graphic: NZ Herald
All were in self-isolation for 14 days, he said.

Powell said hospital staff who were required to self-isolate for more than two weeks had to take it as sick leave.

"This is unacceptable. There should be special consideration leave given the circumstances. Many staff are parents and need to take sick leave when their kids get sick, now they might not be able to."

Bloomfield said he had spoken to Powell and they had agreed to work together where appropriate to help ensure our health services were well prepared to manage any pressures brought as a result of COVID-19.

"This planning includes responding to pressures on both workforce and hospital capacity from COVID 19 - DHBs across the country may differ in their approaches to managing these pressures.

"These steps may require some differences in working and approach to ensure we are best placed to manage any increased pressure."

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