Coronavirus: Doctors running out of swab tests, told there are no more available

Some doctors have completely run out of swabs to do the crucial tests for COVID-19, as others low on supplies try to order more but are told there are none.

The revelation comes as the Government has been pushing doctors to carry out more tests in an effort to combat the coronavirus crisis in New Zealand.

Dr Herman Van Kradenburg's staff at Waikanae Health are frontline responders in this pandemic - but they're lacking the tools for the fight. 

"Politicians are going 'swab, swab, swab' and 'vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate'. But the truth is, down on the ground, we are lacking the basic rifles and ammunition."

By rifles he means PPE, and by ammunition, he's talking about swabs. They're used to check for COVID-19. 

However, his cupboard of supplies is running thin. They've got 12 left and are swabbing five to 10 patients every day. They made an order for 50 extras and got delivered just five a week later.

"When our nurses contacted the suppliers, we were told there was no more and we would need to make do," Dr Van Kradenburg said.

The Health Ministry says it's working on it. 

"We are sort of moving, as we are in other areas, from what I would call a peacetime distribution system to a wartime distribution system," Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.

Down the country in Christchurch, a GP who asked not to be named has seen her "wartime distribution" come to a complete halt.

"We don't have any swabs. We had one swab in our practice - just one - for an enrolled patient population of over 5000 people," she said.

Because some doctors don't have swabs, they're forced to refer patients to community clinics.

However many clinics are overwhelmed with patients waiting in their cars, stretching hundreds of metres down the road.

The Ministry of Health says we have 100,000 swabs in the country, yet the Christchurch GP was told there were none when she tried to get more. 

Now, her staff are left dealing with anger from patients who can't get tested.

"That's the frustrating part," she told Newshub. "It's the difference between what the public is being told on the one hand from the officials, and what is actually happening in practice."

The mixed messages are causing conniptions at clinics for both healthcare workers and the public.

The College of GPs revealed another crisis today, the impact COVID-19 is having on their workforce which they describe at "breaking point". 

A survey they did of 900 GPs has revealed 605 have already had their hours reduced, 60 doctors have lost their jobs and 92 locums can't find work ...

One GP said "This is not sustainable. I am using personal savings to float my business and getting deeper in debt".

There are a couple of reasons why doctors are in this position.

Firstly, non-urgent care has been reduced for GPs under the lockdown rules. So they're not doing things like smears, removing skin cancers or doing travel consults. 

In many cases, practices have also forked out for their own PPE and made alterations to their practices to protect staff and patients. 

The other important point is they say they're underfunded.

The College of GPs President, Samantha Murton, told Newshub even before COVID hit, "GP services have become fragile because costs have gone up and Government funding has failed to keep pace".

She says "an essential service should not be suffering like this". 

The College is calling for urgent action from the Government before practices are forced to stop serving their communities and close their doors. 

The Health Minister Dr David Clark says the Government has allocated $15 million to support general practice to "support workload from testing and costs incurred from virtual consultations".

The cash injection is part of a $30 million package for support doctors, nurses and pharmacies. 

"This support package goes some way towards the immediate needs, but we know there'll be more to be done," Dr Clark said.