Coronavirus: 732 people infected with COVID-19 made to wait more than a day for a medical assessment

Newshub can reveal more than 700 people who tested positive for COVID-19 waited as long as four days to receive medical assessment when it should have happened in 24 hours. 

Health authorities say they're making changes, but concern remains the delays are putting lives at risk.

There are currently more than 2000 people isolating at home, including 538 people with COVID-19.

Rapidly contacting cases to assess medical issues like pre-existing conditions, living conditions and their age is critical. Contact is supposed to happen within a day, but hundreds have faced delays. 

"I think it is a big issue. We know that people with COVID-19 infections can deteriorate very rapidly and there have been some tragic examples of people dying at home," says Professor Michael Baker, Otago University epidemiologist.

Between August 17 and November 18, more than 5000 cases were given a medical assessment within the desired 24 hours.

Another 480 people were interviewed within two days; for 122 others it took three days for health officials to do the assessment; in 61 cases it took up to four days; and 68 people were not contacted for four days or longer.

That means 732 people faced delayed medical assessments.

National's COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop obtained the figures and says any delay is dangerous. 

"It's extremely concerning because anyone who waits longer than 24 hours for that medical assessment is potentially at risk," he said.

Prof Baker says no one should wait longer than 24 hours, as COVID-19 can quickly cause confusion. 

"One of its big effects is reducing respiration efficacy, so you start to get short of oxygen and when that happens people's judgement starts to deteriorate so they won't know that they're actually going down hill."

There have been two "potentially preventable" deaths in home isolation. And as Newshub revealed last night, a third person who died at home also received substandard care, with no clinician calling him despite a low oxygen reading. 

Healthline has 100 to 150 non-clinical staff doing daily health checks of COVID-19 cases at home. They're supported by 30 clinical staff made up of registered nurses of paramedics. 

Doctors are used "sporadically", according to Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP) medical director Dr Bryan Betty - but he says GP involvement might expand. 

"There is the possibility as the new year rolls out, depending on the volume of cases and what's actually happening, that GPs will possibly become more involved," he said.

Health authorities couldn't say if all medical assessments are now being done within 24 hours, but said since the preventable deaths they've focused on "ensuring rapid access to clinical assessments, public health assessment, social services support and oximeter delivery" to everyone in home isolation.  

"The system was not ready to go and unfortunately it still doesn't look like it's scaling up to the way that it should be," said Bishop.

And scaling up is exactly what's needed as we head into the holidays, borders open, and Omicron looms.