Head of Auckland's COVID response still worried about home isolation issues after two preventable deaths

The head of Auckland's COVID response says she remains worried about issues with the home isolation programme.

This comes after a critical review found the deaths of two people in home isolation were "potentially preventable".   

Margie Apa acknowledges the system was overwhelmed by new cases when two men who had COVID-19 died at home. 

A review of the deaths found they could've survived if the home isolation programme had been fit for purpose.

Apa, who is overseeing the Northern Region's COVID response and is the Counties Manukau DHB chief executive, apologised for the failures. 

"We are incredible apologetic and sorry that our system did not do what we would normally want it to have done for their whānau," Apa told Newshub.

In the first death, at an apartment block in Manukau, the public health interview was "not undertaken by interviewers with clinical skills".

The review also found "red flags", like the man being unable to continue a conversation due to severe pain, "were not identified" while there was also a five-day delay in Healthline trying to make contact with the patient and when they couldn't, no one called his family. 

Apa puts some of the issues down to the surge in case numbers, even though such numbers had been predicted. 

"Yes but the scale of growth did test our systems," Apa says.

The second man to die while isolating at home lived in Mt Eden and had recently discharged himself from the hospital. 

The review of the findings in the second case also paints a picture of a complete systems failure.  

The review found that public health didn't know the details of his decision to self-discharge from the hospital.

It also found that non-clinical Healthline staff were involved in follow-up calls and didn't know he had low oxygen saturation levels.

The review also found that no one considered that the patient had been given anti-inflammatory drugs that may have given the case an artificial sense of feeling better than he actually was.

ACT Party leader David Seymour says the Government didn't have proper systems in place to fight COVID at home. 

"The Government simply didn't put in place the systems to fight COVID-19 at home," Seymour tells Newshub. "It broke through the border. It broke through MIQ and the Government simply wasn't ready and people have lost their lives as a result." 

There was an "absence of connectivity" between organisations, leaving them "blind" to key clinical information. 

Apa says the IT systems are being fixed, but it's a "work in progress". She said the fact the programme was still being ironed out is a concern. 

"Yes, it is. It is a worry to us," she said. 

Two weeks ago, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the system was "working well" but on Monday he painted a very different picture. 

He said there had been "slip-ups in the system and things could have been done better".

The report's recommendations, summarised by the review panel chair and Waitematā District Health Board chief medical officer Jonathan Christiansen, found:

  • The need for earlier assessment of clinical safety, welfare needs and mental wellbeing of COVID-19 patients in community-supported isolation and quarantine
  • Better connectivity between all parts of the system to ensure clinical oversight
  • Heightened focus on equity and cultural safety, specifically Māori and Pasifika 
  • The need for stronger clinical governance for adequate reporting systems and rapid informed review of adverse events.

The Northern Regional Health Coordination Centre said changes had been implemented, including piloting a new model with Maori and Pacific providers, door-knocking to those who can't be contacted and establishing a governance group to identify risks and trends with the home isolation programme. 

Watch the full story above.