An expert warns New Zealand’s healthcare system isn’t ready for rising numbers of Covid-19 patients in the community.
Auckland University’s Dr Kyle Eggleton, who specialises in rural health, said while DHBs have been able to redistribute resources, primary care practitioners would be bearing the brunt of the impact.
“Primary care consists of a range of different providers from small solo GPs to large corporate general practices. Some larger practices might be more prepared than others,” he explained.
“Smaller practices might not have the resources to design plans.”
Eggleton said the burden would be greatest in rural communities which tend to have lower vaccination rates and, often, higher levels of socioeconomic deprivation.
“Rural hospitals also have limited oxygen supplies and may not have enough oxygen to last more than 24 hours.
“In addition, rural hospitals do not have adequate negative pressure rooms required to keep infection risk down, or are old and not designed in such a way to have infectious and non-infectious zones,” he said.
Phone coverage is also patchy in some rural areas, which meant health providers may have to make physical visits to people at home if they did contract Covid-19, Eggleton said.
It comes as the Government announced a raft of changes and increased funding to better support people with Covid-19 who were isolating at home.
An adviser making calls to Covid-19 cases at home also told 1News last week the national check-in system is a shambles, with people’s well-being falling into non-clinically trained hands.
Eggleton said it was “reassuring” to see more financial support being provided to community organisations to support people who were isolating.
“The detail of how that funding is accessed by organisations is less transparent,” he added.
"Also it's reassuring to see the pivot towards primary care leading the health support. However, there is no detail on the additional resourcing that primary care will need.”
Meanwhile, University of Otago Wellington Associate Professor Lynn McBain said she was concerned there would be a “steady rise” in Covid-19 cases towards the end of December when many GPs are minimally staffed.
McBain, who is the head of the department of Primary Health and General Practice at the university, said people isolating at home should keep in mind that, no matter the size of their house, there was still a high chance household members could contract the virus.
“Ensuring high immunisation rates will reduce this risk," she said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern disagreed, saying New Zealand’s health system was ready.
She said the transition to home isolation for cases was only happening because the country had vaccines, meaning “the vast majority” of people who contracted Covid-19 would experience it mildly.
“So, we need to make sure that the system enables people to safely isolate at home because it will be safe for many to do so.
“So that is the system that’s been designed, we’ve drawn on the best experience from overseas but we will continue to use a hybrid model where people need greater care they will absolutely get it,” Ardern said.
Safe isolation at home meant a person would get timely information and a good clinical assessment soon after they test Covid-positive, Ardern said.
As for who was making contact with a patient, she said that would depend on whether they were enrolled with a GP and the severity of their symptoms.
Otherwise, a national public tele-health service would be in charge of checking on people at home.