NZ hospitals struggling with COVID chaos

·2-min read

New revelations of the dysfunction created by COVID-19 in New Zealand's hospitals are shocking Kiwis, with surgeries delayed and family members put forward to fill staff shortages.

New Zealand is suffering through a winter wave of infections, hospitalisations and deaths, powered by the highly contagious Omicron variant BA.5.

While case numbers are lower than the summer surge, the impact in human terms - and on the health system - has been worse.

On Thursday, health officials announced 38 new deaths associated with the virus, including 14 where it was the underlying cause.

Fatalities are higher than at any previous point during the pandemic and hospitalisations (827) are not far from the peak of 1016 reached during the first Omicron wave in March.

The second wave is colliding with the country's worst flu season in recent memory, which is also requiring much of the health system's attention at a time when many staff are absent due to isolation protocols.

The pressure has pushed non-urgent surgery down the pipeline, and increasingly, urgent operations too.

Cardiac Society chairman Selwyn Wong told Radio NZ patients who needed urgent procedures - including those who have had heart attacks - were waiting weeks for surgery, sometimes occupying ICU beds.

"These are people deemed sick enough to wait in hospital and not safe enough to be waiting at home for their operations," he said.

The Otago Daily Times reports 21 nursing students were called in to assist at Dunedin Hospital last weekend and paid with supermarket vouchers for filling shifts.

A nurses' union spokeswoman told Radio NZ the students "didn't know what they were walking into" and the health minister declared the situation "unacceptable".

"I got an explanation ... that the hospital administration had struggled to get the students on the payroll system. I don't accept that explanation," Andrew Little said.

"If they are doing healthcare assistant work, they should be paid as healthcare assistants."

The nurses' union has proposed basic tasks be carried out by family members of the sick.

Mr Little said he had seen hospitalisations and ICU occupancy for COVID-19 rise, but "generally, hospital occupancy is coming below 90 per cent in most cases".

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