Intensive care clinicians opposed transfer of COVID-positive UN worker from Fiji, source says Ministry of Health not being upfront about risks

An intensive care clinician says the Ministry of Health has not been upfront with the public about the risks associated with the transfer of a COVID-positive patient from Fiji to New Zealand.

Newshub has learned intensive care clinicians told their bosses they did not want the patient transferred to New Zealand. The clinicians opposed the seriously ill worker being transferred for treatment on both ethical and safety grounds, and attempted to stop the process.

But one source says those concerns were overruled - with the patient arriving in Auckland last night.

The patient, a senior official for Fiji's United Nations (UN) Development Programme, is carrying the highly infectious Delta variant. They are now being treated at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital. 

Now, a senior intensive care clinician wants the New Zealand public to know the risks associated with the patient's transfer.

"Our ICU teams are not all immunised. Neither are their families," the clinician told Newshub. 

"There is a risk that this disease will spread in our community." 

The clinician wants the best for the COVID-positive worker, but is aggrieved by the ministry's decision to let the patient into the country while infectious with the Delta variant.

They said the ministry has not been as upfront with the public as it should have been.

"That's one of the reasons why I am motivated to speak.

"Fundamentally, I think a clinical decision has been politicised."

On Tuesday, the ministry said the transfer had been declined, saying "there is not sufficient capacity to take the patient".

The clinician told Newshub it was "disingenuous" of the ministry to blame the refused request on capacity concerns. 

"It means they don't have to admit that they've asked doctors and forced doctors to do something that they believe is unethical."

Do you know more? Send an email in confidence to

ICU staff at Middlemore Hospital did not want the transfer to happen. On Tuesday, a second opinion was sought from Auckland and Waitemata ICU staff, who also said the transfer should not happen for ethical and safety reasons. The same day, the ministry publicly said it had been rejected.

But on Wednesday, management at Middlemore told staff the transfer needed to go ahead.

"My understanding is that the patient had been accepted by management before there had been any conversation with clinicians," the clinician said, who claimed the specialists were not informed. 

"I think management had pressure brought to bear on them by the ministry and above and yes, those clinical decisions were overruled."

And the clinician believes there was another questionable move by management. 

"My understanding is that colleagues at Middlemore were then shown a photo of this woman, which I think is unnecessarily emotive." 

The Health Ministry told Newshub a DHB only accepts a medivac if clinicians agree treatment in New Zealand is appropriate, there is sufficient capacity, and transport can be undertaken safely.

Newshub asked whether ethical concerns were raised by clinicians. The ministry did not respond. Newshub sent a list of questions to the northern DHBS - they referred Newshub to the ministry's statement, which did not answer the questions raised.

The source says ICU teams will feel undermined and the ministry's decision comes at a cost not only to frontline staff, but also to the community.