Health minister backtracks to fund sleep pods

NZME staff,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Aug 2016, 6:40am

Health minister backtracks to fund sleep pods

NZME staff,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Aug 2016, 6:40am

UPDATED: 8.03am The government's done a u-turn on the funding of portable bassinets, or pepi pods.

LISTEN ABOVE: Professor of Paediatrics at Auckland University Ed Mitchell speaks to Mike Hosking about the pepi-pods

The Ministry of Health had previously refused to fund the pods because of a lack of evidence they helped save babies' lives.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has previously supported that stance.

But after a Herald investigation -- which found the Ministry had secretly restricted the reach of the Maori-led safe sleep initiative, contrary to expert opinion and dozens of Coroner recommendations -- and a meeting with New Zealand's leading cot death expert, Mr Coleman's backtracked.

The cot-death expert Dr Coleman spoke to was Ed Mitchell who told Mike Hosking he's thrilled.

"I think it's going to be quite a dramatic effect. The problem with the programme up until now is that we haven't been able to cover all the vulnerable babies."

He said education will also be included in the scheme, and that will make a massive difference.

"This programme, I believe, will reduce mortality by half."

Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at Otago University Barry Taylor told Andrew Dickens the research is there but it's not yet been published in the peer-reviewed literature which the Ministry relies on.

"So I think they are caught in a hard place because they're waiting for that evidence. It's sitting there, but it's not yet published."

Mr Taylor said it's a good decision to fund the pods.

"It's important to realise that babies are vulnerable, especially in the first six months, and they always need to sleep in a safe place."



2005: New Zealand holds the worst rate of sudden infant death in the western world, with Maori babies eight times more likely to die.

2006: The flax-woven wahakura bassinet is designed to allow Maori mothers to safely co-sleep with their babies.

2008: A Coroner recommends wahakura should be handed out to at-risk families after ruling over the death of Ocean Pene, who was likely smothered by her parents.

2009: The plastic pepi-pod is designed as a more affordable portable bassinet that can be made and distributed quickly.

2010: Coroner Wallace Bain declares war against health authorities over a lack of action over accidental suffocation deaths. He supports wahakura and pepi-pod distribution.

2011: Ministry of Health funds 1000 pepi-pods to be handed out to Christchurch families displaced by the deadly February earthquake.

2012: Ministry of Health secretly tears up a $250,000 contract to fund a national roll-out of pepi-pods based on fears for their safety that were not discussed with experts or coroners.

2015: The ministry dishes out $800,000 of funding for eight DHBs to reduce their SUDI rates on the condition the money is not used to purchase pepi-pods or whakura.

April 2016: Study shows pepi-pods are linked to the first reduction in Maori infant deaths rates in 16 years.

July 9, 2016: The New Zealand Herald publishes an investigation on the Government’s reluctance to fund pepi-pods.

July 13, 2016: Health Minister Jonathan Coleman criticised for refusing to publicly comment on the pepi-pod debate. In an email from a spokesperson he says he supports the ministry’s approach.

July 26, 2016: Coleman meets with leading cot death researcher Professor Ed Mitchell to discuss pepi-pods.

August 1, 2016: Coleman overrules the ministry and orders officials to work with Mitchell on a national roll out of pepi-pods.