Twenty-four hospitals are in line for an upgrade, with 23 new intensive care and high dependency beds added to New Zealand’s stock.
Health Minister Andrew Little made the announcement on Thursday, saying 36 different hospital upgrades would take place at hospitals around the country.
In total, changes would cost $644 million, coming from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund, and includes intensive care and other upgrades at North Shore, Tauranga and Christchurch hospitals which have been previously announced.
“With high vaccination rates and better treatments and prevention methods, we are shifting to better support planned and routine care while also safely caring for Covid-19 patients,” Little said.
“Now in 2022 we will also add 75 new standard inpatient beds in hospitals.
“Additionally, 355 existing inpatient beds will be converted into isolation or negative pressure environments, and a number of hospitals will have ventilation upgrades. These upgrades will allow routine and planned care to continue and patients with mild to moderate Covid-19 to be treated, while helping to protect all patients, visitors and staff from the virus.
“The upgrades include 23 new ICU/HDU beds, as well as eight temporary bed conversions to ICU."
The Opposition has taken aim at the Government over ICU bed capacity – with its leader Christopher Luxon bringing up the topic in his first questioning of the Prime Minister earlier this month.
Little said the upgrades were about minimising disruption from the treatment of Covid patients.
“New Zealand’s success in responding to the pandemic means there has never been more than 11 Covid-19 patients in ICU at any one time.
"The vast majority of people who get Covid won’t need to go to hospital, let alone need an ICU bed. Increasing ICU/HDU capacity is part of the wider plan to rebuild our health system.”
Little said designated ICU beds around the country were at about 180. If it was needed, that could be surged up to 290 with “sufficiently”, but not fully trained, nursing staff.
“If we really had to surge” at the expense of non-coronavirus patients, up to 550 beds could be available and staffed with nurses who are trained to care for only Covid-19 patients in ICU, he told Breakfast.
Shane Reti, National's health spokesperson, said the spending "is one Christmas too late".
“By his own admission Andrew Little didn’t build a single new resourced adult ICU bed in Auckland in the 18 months before Delta arrived and the number of new build ICU beds in this announcement, across the whole country, is only 31 new beds or roughly 10 per cent," Reti said.
“This is a paltry figure when he was advised by specialists last year to triple the number of beds. If he hasn’t figured it out already, 355 negative pressure room ward beds are not 355 ICU beds."