Coronavirus: Overwhelmed healthcare system means some patients may not get treated

A hospital doctor says  if COVID-19 overwhelms the healthcare system some patients may not get treated 

Healthcare systems around the world are struggling to deal with the number of COVID cases, most of whom are unvaccinated. 

As a result, some countries are making it harder, and more expensive, for the unvaccinated to get healthcare. 

In Germany, the unvaccinated aren't eligible for financial help if they have to quarantine, and they have to pay for their tests.  

Unvaccinated Italians pay for their swabs, too, and workers must show a health pass, proving vaccination or a negative test, or, they have to take unpaid leave. 

In the US, where healthcare coverage is tied to employment, some companies are charging unvaccinated employees more for their insurance.

And this week, Singapore announced the country will no longer cover treatment for unvaccinated COVID patients.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has assured Kiwis that won't happen in New Zealand. 

"We do not want people who are not vaccinated to be precluded from accessing the basic necessities of life: food, healthcare, and so on," she said. 

Immunisation Advisory Centre Medical director Nikki Turner says there's a good reason why the Government has made that call. 

"There’s a point at which there’s really no gain in pushing it further, if people feel they’re in a corner and they’re being attacked, it’s not going to make them get vaccinated."

But Whangarei ICU's clinical director Dr Daniel Owens says healthcare workers could be forced to choose to treat the person who is most likely to recover.

Vaccinated people are much less likely to get seriously sick, require hospitalisation or die from COVID, which could play a role in the decision of who gets treatment. 

"How we apply and how we allocate healthcare in this country is that it’s fair and equitable for all, and that it should be completely independent of race, socioeconomic class, and vaccination status," Dr Owens said. 

"But when you only have one bed for two patients, what we then have to look at is which patient will gain the most benefit from that bed so it’s a way of trying to maximise a constrained resource. If we are overwhelmed and resources are constrained, we are going to have to face a situation where we are unable to treat patients who ordinarily we would treat."

Dr Owens says the burden of that decision isn't taken lightly. 

"How do we make those decisions? How do we make those choices? The emotional strain on the healthcare professionals having to make those decisions is something I've seen personally first-hand from my colleagues in the UK."

There were 201 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday - 181 in Auckland, 15 in Waikato, four in Northland and one in Taranaki. The other five Taranaki cases will be recorded on Saturday. There are 85 people hospital, 11 of whom are in the ICU or HDU. 

This story was amended on November 12 2021 when the headline was changed to better reflect the opinion of Dr Owens.