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Kate Hawkesby: Health NZ acknowledging issues and mistakes doesn't actually fix them

Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Tue, 18 Oct 2022, 8:47AM
Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

Kate Hawkesby: Health NZ acknowledging issues and mistakes doesn't actually fix them

Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Tue, 18 Oct 2022, 8:47AM

It probably comes as no surprise to any of us who watched on from the confines of our homes as the Ministry of Health bungled its way through Covid, that they’ve just discovered a ’coding error’. 

It means the number of hospitalisations they recorded was not, in fact, accurate. 

Turns out when they said just over 14,000 people were hospitalised with Covid, they meant almost 19,500. 


A ‘coding error’ led to the under count. Just the 5,000 odd cases out. No biggie. 

Unless you’re interested in accuracy of course, or facts and real hard data, which one assumes a Ministry of Health department might be, but beggars can’t be choosers. 

And when it comes to healthcare in this country, we appear to be beggars, sadly. From our delayed vaccine rollout, to our lack of PPE, to our shortage of flu vaccines, to our appalling lack of cancer treatment services, to our shortage of GP’s and nurses, to our bungles and errors, it’s not exactly a sector firing on all cylinders is it? 

And then we hear yesterday that ‘the emergency department of one of our biggest hospitals has been slammed as unsafe for patients and staff in a damning new report.’ 

News sites reported that in a “scathing, five-page document, Middlemore Hospital has been described as dysfunctional, overcrowded and unsafe.” This was written after ‘an independent inquiry into the death of a patient in June,’ who left the Emergency Department after being told the wait was too long. 

It was going to be hours before she could get seen for a severe headache apparently, so after they told her this, she decided to just leave and go back home. Understandable. 

“A few hours later she was back in an ambulance after a brain haemorrhage and died the following day.” So the report says she didn’t get triaged, hence no red flags regarding her condition were picked up. 

The report ‘expressed "serious concerns" about the degree of overcrowding in the ED, which it said was an indicator of significant systemic failures and made it ”clear that this institution is struggling. The evidence provided strongly reflected an overcrowded ED, a hospital well over acceptable capacity and subsequent system dysfunction,”’ the report’s quoted as saying. 

The upshot was, it’s “unsafe and not sustainable.” So where does that leave patients? And staff? And families in that area? 

What reassurances are there that anything will change? How can anything change when resources and staff are so tight? It’s hard to know whether to have faith in the platitudes that come after a scathing report like this. 

It was reported that, “Te Whatu Ora chief executive and former Counties Manukau District Health Board boss Margie Apa, recognised the issues raised in the report.” 

Is recognising the issues the same as addressing them and fixing them? Is recognising them enough? 

All that tells me is that you know it’s bad. 

Te Whatu Ora (which by the way is Health NZ), for its part says it’ll conduct a national review. 

So we get acknowledgement of the issues, a pledge to review the issues, and in the meantime what? Nothing. I think we deserve better from our health system than just, ‘yep we know it’s bad,’ don’t we?

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