Coronavirus: MIQ rooms for health workers too little, too late for New Zealand's ICU capacity as COVID cases rise - experts

Healthcare professionals are worried the move to allocate 300 managed isolation and quarantine spots per month to health workers has come too late.

Minister of Health Andrew Little made the announcement on Wednesday, saying bringing in these workers is "vital" in rebuilding the health system and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health and disability workers critical to the health system will still be eligible for emergency allocations if needed, and any existing bookings for healthcare workers will stand.

But healthcare workers in New Zealand say while it's a good move, it's too little too late, especially with the country's COVID-19 cases on the rise.

"You look at what they've gone through in both the first and second waves in Italy, UK, US, and you see their ICU capacity, hospital capacities have been overwhelmed. It is absolutely worrying," Dr Daniel Owens, the clinical director of Whangarei ICU, tells The Project.

"I think you would be naive not to be scared about what's coming."

While it's difficult to imagine the devastation seen in some overseas countries happening in New Zealand, we have a much lower ICU capacity compared with others overseas.

Our ICU capacity is far worse than the likes of the United States, where there's one staffed bed for every 5477. New Zealand's Intensive Care Society says we have 186 total, which is one for every 27,541 people - one-fifth of the US' capacity.

"If you look at ICU beds per capita, we're actually very low, one of the lowest in the OECD. The UK maybe has twice what we have per 100,000," Dr Owens says.

That means, if COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the only option for doctors and nurses will be to take in far more patients than they should.

Dr Daniel Owens and Sarah Dalton.
Dr Daniel Owens and Sarah Dalton. Photo credit: The Project / Getty Images

"We know when we don't run our usual critical care models, outcomes will probably be poorer," Dr Owens adds.

It also means people without COVID will have a harder time getting treatment.

"It is very common for planned care, which is less-urgent operations and procedures, to be pushed back when acute demand becomes too heavy," says Sarah Dalton, the executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists.

We've already seen the knock-on effects of COVID, with some patients saying they had surgeries delayed. And while lockdown delays are tough, they're just a hint of what might be around the corner.

While those at the coal face are pleased with Wednesday's announcement about MIQ spaces being allocated to health workers, they say it's simply not enough to change our course.

"No matter what we do for this pandemic, we can't magic-up ICU beds and trained nurses," Dr Owens says.

"We've been understaffing our health system for decades now, and now it's coming back to bite us," Dalton adds.

Watch the video above.