Covid 19 coronavirus: Barry Soper – The bumbling episode of health ministry and patient from Fiji


It seems the Ministry of Health didn’t know whether it was coming or going this week or, more importantly, a desperately ill woman in Fiji didn’t know whether she would live or die.

When this senior United Nations worker in her early 60s was admitted to the ICU at Suva’s Colonial War Memorial Hospital she’d seen the chaos that the Covid ridden country had become. More than 30 Covid deaths a day at an unofficial, conservative estimate, is now generally accepted in the country of fewer than a million citizens.

The indigenous Fijian woman’s condition grew worse, and a request was made, and agreed to in writing behind the scenes on Monday, by our health officials for her to be airlifted to Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital. But the Health Ministry would only admit on Monday night by text that discussions were underway with Fijian health authorities but insisted no formal request had been made!

Newstalk ZB went to air that night on that basis.

On Tuesday the airlift was privately confirmed by worried Auckland clinicians who didn’t want a bar of it, they didn’t want the deadly Delta variant of the virus being treated in any of our hospitals and weren’t willing to take the risk that an airlift would involve.

A firmed-up story about the airlift was aired on Newstalk ZB. But the Health Ministry put the shutters up again, refusing to comment but saying there would be an update later in the day. That update came after the main radio bulletins had gone to air and after the television channels had aired their news for the day.

After 7pm the Ministry was texting, this time saying the formal request from Fiji had been declined, citing clinical grounds. They told us advice had been received from Intensive Care Unit directors at the three Auckland metro DHBs that there wasn’t sufficient capacity to currently take the patient.

Then today, lo and behold, capacity had miraculously been freed up and the airlift was on again with them telling us the “fluidity of the situation at the (DHBs) determined this treatment can be provided”.

The costly medevac flight left Auckland late this morning and landed tonight.

This isn’t about whether the UN worker should be singled out for special treatment when many others are left to die in her country.

In former 3IC at the United Nations Helen Clark’s book it was a no brainer. Countries that sign up to United Nations protocols, as New Zealand has done, have a duty of care to UN staff and Clark more than likely made that point behind the scenes. Certainly, any intensive care was beyond Fiji, so the responsibility fell on this country.

Let’s hope the on again, off again, on again airlift will save the woman’s life. And let’s hope no one is contaminated with the Delta variant as a result of the transfer.

But what the bumbling episode has exposed to us is a Health Ministry, headed by the Covid king Dr Ashley Bloomfield, that’s all fingers and thumbs and is so media shy that they are willing to have their decisions dictated by it, that is until the grown-ups like Helen Clark become involved.

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