Middlemore Hospital blunder could become new COVID-19 cluster, expert warns, as another patient speaks out

A leading COVID-19 expert says it's possible we will see another big cluster of cases after Middlemore Hospital's mismanagement of a COVID case - a scenario which could delay Auckland's move out of alert level 4.

Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says it will all depend on how infectious the case was who was put on the ward - and the fact he wasn't wearing a mask is a concern.

Another key factor will be the day five tests from all the close contacts - 120 patients and 29 staff are among them.

It comes as another patient came forward to Newshub claiming authorities failed to protect him from a man who was clearly displaying symptoms of COVID-19. 

On Sunday, Jamie - who was hunkering down in managed isolation - was in the same room as the COVID-positive man at Middlemore Hospital. 

"We all picked up on it straight away. He didn't have to be there long for us to realise he was very, very crook," Jamie said.

He says the patient wasn't wearing a mask and his symptoms were obvious. 

"You can hear his lung gurgling, real bad lungs… He was going to the toilet heaps, he had a lot of diarrhea."

But Jamie and two others were left in the room with the patient for hours. His mother-in-law Rachel says it shows shocking incompetence. 

"Exposing so many people in a hospital - it's diabolical."

But the DHB says it didn't make a mistake.

"I don't think serious mistakes were made. I think what we're saying is it was really unfortunate," said Pete Watson, chief medical officer at Counties Manukau DHB.

The DHB says coughing was never noted by clinicians, and when the patient first arrived he had abdominal pain.

"The protocol was followed in the usual way. It's just that this patient presented in an atypical way," says Dr Vanessa Thornton, Counties Manukau DHB director of medical services.

The abdominal pain may have been atypical for New Zealand, but is well-documented as a symptom in the British Journal of General Practice.

"It's not been on one of the recognised symptoms for Delta, so it's been included now for our checking when patients present," said Watson.

Patients' families say the DHB needs to start being up-front. 

"Why cover it up? There's no need to do that. It only makes people more suspicious," said Rachel.

The DHB says it hasn't covered anything up - but admits staff only made a fleeting check on the patient, meaning the symptoms could have been missed. 

But here's what we know:

The patient was admitted to a ward at 7am.

A surgeon noted the patient developed a fever at 9:55am and ordered a test.

At 3pm, the positive test came back. 

Even though staff knew of the positive result, the patient wasn't moved to his own room for another 80 minutes, at 4:20pm. 

"We were stuck in this room with this guy all day," said Jamie.

Dr Thornton admits it's not ideal, but says given the situation and lack of space at the hospital, they moved the patient as soon as they were able.

"People acted very quickly," she said.

But Jamie says it's clear there was no plan. Even when the COVID-19 patient was wheeled out, he and the others asked questions but were not told the patient was COVID-positive. 

"'Why are you guys panicking? What's happening?' They would not tell us," he said.

"They need to admit they've made a mistake and they need to learn from this, and not do it again because we trusted them with our healthcare and they failed."

A spokesperson for Counties Manukau DHB told Newshub staff didn't inform Jamie and the other patients in the room of the positive result immediately because they were busy caring for the COVID case. 

"At the time our clinical team was focussed on ensuring the appropriate course of action for the COVID-positive patient was taken. Senior Medical Officers subsequently spoke to each patient in the room, explaining the situation." 

The top floor of Middlemore Hospital's Edmund Hillary building is where the COVID-positive patient shared the room with three others. That ward and three others have now been closed to new admissions.

In total, 120 patients are being treated as COVID-exposed. 

One of those patients is Shaun. He believes he was in the short stay unit with the positive case, before the case was admitted to the ward. 

He was discharged and went home to his family - before anyone told him he was a risk. 

"By the time I found out what had happened, that I was a close contact, I had already been around the kids for a day and a half. It's not really good enough," he said.

He, like many others caught up in this blunder, are now waiting and wondering if they too will test positive.