Revealed: The significant changes coming to NZ's COVID-19 home isolation programme

Newshub can reveal significant changes are coming to the home isolation programme.

Health Minister Andrew Little is committed to better involvement and funding of community providers and general practitioners. 

Thousands of people are isolating at home around Auckland, but the system to care for people at home hasn't kept up. 

"This outbreak has taken off in a way that people didn't predict, and we've been pretty much building the plane as we've been flying it," Little conceded.

And that plane has been in hot demand. 

A week ago on October 13, 3333 people were isolating at home. That's steadily increased, hitting 4416 on October 16 - and by Friday it had gone up again, with 5200 people now isolating at home.

Planning for home isolation started several weeks ago, but GPs say that was too late. 

"We would have liked to have been thinking about this about six months ago," said Dr Bryan Betty, medical director of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP).

The key issue was late or substandard communication with people isolating at home. 

"The bottlenecks and log jams that were particularly happening around public health - that work is now being distributed and gone to where it needs to go," Little said.

That means Pacific community health providers like The Fono and Southseas will know about cases earlier, and have greater oversight of the programme. 

"Big changes - just because it allows us to engage with families a lot earlier rather than families waiting on someone to contact them," said Lelamalu Silao Vaisola, Southseas Healthcare CEO.

And GPs will be more involved. 

"We've made a commitment, we need the GPs on board, we need primary care to be doing their share of the workload and they'll be funded to do that," said Little.

Dr Betty says that's progress, but that GPs must be recognised as integral to the response. 

"Frontline general practice across this country should be part of this response and it should be thought of in terms of planning and what actually happens."

Another related issue is testing delays. Public health officials say some people are waiting five days to get notified 

"That's a huge problem because in that five days if that person is positive and asymptomatic and don't know it, they will be infecting other people," Little said.

The target is notifying people in 24 hours, and Little accepted health officials weren't meeting this target in every case.

He told Newshub labs are under pressure but work is underway to triage the tests depending on risk. He says if people are asymptomatic and haven't been to a location of interest those tests "go to the back of the queue".

But people who have had contact with other positive cases will have their tests "expedited very quickly." 

The Health Ministry told Newshub it's also looking at using rapid antigen tests to alleviate stress on labs. 

"Work is also underway by the Ministry to review the testing strategy to take a risk-based approach utilising 'the right test to achieve the right outcome'," a spokesperson told Newshub.

They said this could include rapid antigen testing in multiple settings and scenarios, and contribute to managing the demand on laboratories. 

And the Ministry says it'll be ready for when Auckland borders open. 

"Our teams will be available to respond to any increased demands for testing when the requirement for unvaccinated people requiring a negative test 72 hours before their travel comes into effect from 15 December."