Coronavirus: Healthline call logs reveal COVID-positive man who died at home wasn't spoken to by clinician despite low oxygen levels

Healthline phone call logs obtained by Newshub show an Auckland man with COVID-19 who died at home had low oxygen levels and was struggling to breathe, but wasn't spoken to by a clinician despite assurances he'd be called back immediately. 

The daughter of the Glen Eden man says the home isolation programme is still "not fit for purpose", but health officials are adamant improvements are being rolled out. The man's daughter, who asked to remain anonymous, has scrutinised every page of call logs her dad had with health officials before he died.

"It's devastating and it's heartbreaking and you would say this person needs to be in hospital," she tells Newshub.

On October 31, her father had a normal oxygen reading of 95. On November 2, on the next call, a Healthline assistant asks: "How are you feeling today?" The patient replies, "Not good". He confirms he has a "cough", a "fever" and "sometimes my feet become hot". 

The patient's translator says "he's very sick".

Later that day on another call by a non-clinical staff member, it's confirmed the patient is short of breath and an oxygen reading is taken. 

The patient says "oxygen down to 92" - a drop of three from two days earlier. 

"He was in such a critical state and he was coughing relentlessly," his daughter says.

Bryan Betty, the Royal NZ College of GPs medical director, says the man should've got medical help.

"So if it drops by three percent points, you should be getting medical help, if it drops to 92 percent you need urgent medical advice," Dr Betty says.

Healthline responds to the man: "Would you like me to call you an ambulance or get our medical team to do an assessment?"

The patient says: "Well, it's up to the doctor, so I don't know." 

Healthline says: "What I'm going to do is talk to one of our clinicians and get them to call you back, and if they think it's wise to get an ambulance, they'll call one."

The patient responds: "OK, OK."

Healthline reassures the patient, "I will do this straight away" - but no one called the man back. 

"Post that period, no clinician call back was arranged and no call back was made," the man's daughter says.

For the next three days during checks by non-clinical staff, no oxygen readings were taken. 

Then, Healthline calls again: "I've just called up to do your daily health check, is that alright?" 

The patient responds: "I have a cough, I have no strength to talk." 

Healthline persists: "Would you be able to talk to me just for two minutes?" 

The patient says, "No, it's a little hard for me to talk", and both parties say goodbye. 

"It's the biggest red flag," the man's daughter says.

"If he's not able to talk, if he's not able to take his own oxygen readings, that's concerning, that should be escalated."

But again, it wasn't.

The next day when asked for an oxygen reading, the patient says: "It's changing, sometimes 91 and sometimes 92." 

"I'm better now," the patient went on to say. But when pressed, he says, "I have pain in my arms and legs" and he feels like vomiting.

When a clinician calls back, the patient's son answers and says his dad's "feeling better".

The clinician does not talk at any point to the patient, and the son mistakenly gives a blood pressure reading instead of an oxygen reading. 

It isn't questioned. 

The man's daughter has listened to the audio of the calls. 

"In the call itself, you can hear that cuff being pumped up with oxygen," she says.

The next time Healthline called, it wasn't to the patient. 

"They had the wrong number," his daughter says.

Newshub understands health officials believe her dad died of a heart attack as a result of stress from COVID. Newshub asked whether the outcome could have been different if he'd been taken to hospital, but health officials would not comment. 

Officials also wouldn't say why a clinician didn't call the man back when his oxygen levels dropped. 

Healthline chief executive Andrew Slater told Newshub a review into the case is incomplete and "complex".

"The review is ongoing. It is important to note that Healthline relies on the information it is provided in order to make clinical decisions," he says. "The intention is to complete the final review report as quickly as possible. The coronial investigation into the cause of death is also ongoing."

But the man's daughter doesn't have confidence that the system is fit for its purpose.

Officials say changes are being implemented, including increased quality audits, rapid clinical assessments, and improving messaging for those at home with COVID.