One of the big questions that has been hanging over the government's Covid response has been our ICU capacity – our ability to look after our people when they really need it.
So, on the face of it, it was good news to hear yesterday’s announcement by Andrew Little of over half a billion dollars to be pumped into upgrading hospitals across the country.
At present, New Zealand has (for a little bit of context) 4 beds per 100,000 people compared with 9 in Australia, 16 in France and an impressive 34 in Germany. It’s worth also noting that our ICU capacity in NZ has, incredibly, gone backwards since May last year.
So, it's one thing to spend the money, but it’s a completely different thing to actually deliver the results the money is aimed at delivering.
And that's where, frankly I'm taking a wait-and-see approach to see if this makes any meaningful difference to the capacity that we require.
As usual there's not a lot of detail given at this stage.
The challenge, clearly, is to turn it that money and the promises into something that is genuinely meaningful.
It’s worth noting that infrastructure itself does not make patients better.
People do. Staff do.
There are two ways to get good staff.
One is to train them. That takes years.
The second is to import them.
The Government has taken a small step towards addressing this with returning kiwi nurses, if they have a job, having priority access to 300 extra spots in MIQ.
However, that doesn't address the question of nurses trying to return who haven’t first secured a job.
It also doesn't address the immigration issues around attracting qualified staff to New Zealand whether or not they be New Zealand citizens.
It’s a fact that if it's too hard, they’re something going to go elsewhere.
I have gone on a bit in the past about the invisibility of our Immigration Minister, Kris Faafoi, when it comes to addressing these problems. And still, we are in a situation where Immigration New Zealand does not prioritise visas for critical care nurses.
There's apparently a review due to happen sometime next year.
This is the problem for the government. It's always later. It's always somewhere the down the line. Sort of “we’ll do the review” – “we'll talk first.”
Now we have a new Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus moving at a frightening pace overseas and is as close to New Zealand as just over our international border surging away in New South Wales.
It should be immediately apparent to anyone with a bit of common sense that the staff we need in ICU are required right now. Even if it takes Kris Faafoi sitting at his desk, signing off individual applications one after the other for qualified staff. That's what we need to happen.
So, the announcement of money is great.
But it doesn’t impress me nearly as much as having a plan and some detail on getting the people that are going to deliver a meaningful change to the capacity that we so desperately need to address this virus.
Remember this government is one that is great on the promises, great on spending money, but not so great on delivery.
So, with the government about to grind to a halt over the summer recess while the virus keeps doing what it does – for the time being – for me it's still fingers crossed and wait and see.