The Government has given $15 million to provide urgent-care beds at Tauranga Hospital to help the city cope with Covid-19.
Health Minister Andrew Little announced the funding today and said it was expected to result in two additional intensive care unit (ICU) beds and four high dependency unit (HDU) beds.
New Zealand had done well so far during the pandemic to avoid hospitals becoming over-run, Little said.
“But as the country shifts to the traffic-light system, we need to make sure we can cope with the unexpected,” he said.
“As I have said before, I have asked district health boards to identify ways of increasing intensive-care capacity within six months, such as projects to convert unused wards.”
Cabinet earmarked $100m of capital funding from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund to “accelerate” the ICU projects. Another $544m of operational funding is expected to be available to fund ongoing costs such as staffing, Little said.
Tauranga Hospital was among the first to receive money for this purpose. Money has also been given to hospitals in the North Shore and Christchurch. Another $65.1m has been given for a new six-bed facility, 30 in-patient beds and two negative pressure rooms at Waitakere Hospital in Henderson, Auckland.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief executive Pete Chandler said he was “thrilled” with the funding.
“With our population growth, this is now a critical need for the Bay, serving both the potential needs of Covid patients and our elective major surgery and medical emergency patients as well.”
Chandler said that while there was already work under way to upgrade the hospital’s facilities, further investment was extremely helpful.
“This is great news for the communities we serve.”
Acting chief operating officer Bronwyn Anstis said the Bay of Plenty’s “significant and sustained growth” in population had resulted in a paralleled increase in demand on health services and facilities.
“Frequently this means that our ICU and HDU facilities are at, or near, capacity,” she said.
The existing ICU contains 10 beds.
Pete Chandler, chief executive of the Bay of Plenty District Health Board. Photo / NZME
Anstis said the Covid-19 outbreak placed increased demand “for this level of healthcare for some in our community”.
Anstis said the “constrained capacity” of the ICU and HDU departments had been “an area of concern” and the funding to expand was timely and welcomed.
It also meant fewer patients needing ICU care having to be transferred out of the area in times of peak demand.
“I would encourage all those who have not been fully vaccinated yet to take up the opportunity, so we can continue providing this level of care to all who need it,” Anstis said.
“Vaccination works and is highly effective if people have both doses. That means, if you do catch Covid-19, you’re far less likely to fall seriously ill and less likely to need ICU- or HDU-level care.”
Earlier this month, district health board data showed an estimated 230 people would die and there would be almost 31,000 Covid-19 cases in the local area next year if only an 80 per cent vaccination rate was achieved.
The modelling figures show with an 80 per cent vaccination rate in the local area there would be 2200 hospitalisations, but at 90 per cent that would drop to 1200.
Ministry of Health data shows as of December 1, 90 per cent of the eligible population of the Bay of Plenty District Health Board had received one dose and 82 per cent were fully vaccinated.
To reach the 90 per cent fully vaccinated target, 18,302 doses needed to be administered.
One new Covid case was confirmed in the Western Bay yesterday. It was a household contact of a previously reported case and was already isolating at home when they tested positive.
Several new locations of interest include the Tauranga Library, a bar, food locations and service stations. Two new locations in Taupō are a tyre service centre and a McDonald’s.
The number of total active cases for Bay of Plenty was 62.
The Covid-19 ward at Tauranga Hospital, pictured in early November. Photo / NZME
The funding announcement comes just weeks after concerns a temporary ward at Tauranga Hospital was akin to “1960s army barracks”.
In October, the hospital made changes to its wards to allow for urgent work to prepare to treat potential Covid-19 patients. Part of an orthopaedic ward was cleared and a temporary ward – 1D – was created in the former transit lounge. Lounge patients would be housed in the conference centre.
Health Minister Andrew Little. Photo / NZME
A couple needing four days of care said during the husband’s stay, there were 25 patients in the ward with curtains separating the beds and toilets at one end. They felt unsafe at potential cross-contamination of Covid-19 and questioned the hospital’s duty of care.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief executive Pete Chandler acknowledged the “overflow” area was “not ideal”.