Government promises to do better in face of heartbreaking COVID-19 lockdown experiences

The Government is now promising to do better in the face of heartbreaking experiences Kiwis went through alone in COVID-19 lockdown, from miscarriage, to a cancer diagnosis, to suicide and a traumatic birth.

On Wednesday, the Epidemic Response Committee heard some of the sacrifices New Zealanders made under the strict lockdown rules, including Jennifer Rouse who reflected on the day she was diagnosed with cancer.

She told the committee she experienced "overwhelming distress and anxiety added to a life-threatening breast cancer diagnosis" on the day of lockdown.

Rouse was forced to pay $15,000 for a mastectomy after being warned of the wait for a free public surgery, which she said was "almost all my savings so it does leave me vulnerable".

Face-to-face consultations have been replaced by phone calls, and the impact of that was highlighted by Cancer Society Medical Director Chris Jackson.

"I had to speak with one young mum and tell her over the telephone that her cancer had returned and she was incurable and that she was going to die from her illness," Jackson told the committee.

"Normally, you'd be able to sit with her and her family and support people in an environment and work through things carefully and gently. We've had to do that by telephone."

The committee also heard about a woman who was forced to learn she had miscarried, alone, with her husband waiting for two hours in the hospital car park - also alone.

"From the car park where we said our goodbyes my wife was then left to navigate alone through the halls of a fairly empty hospital, finding her way to the ultrasound, be scanned and told by medical staff that her pregnancy had no heartbeat," husband Bjorn Reymer said.

"She was then given a box of tissues and left in the scanning room alone to gain her composure and proceed to the next stages of the miscarriage."

The committee also heard from David Moger, chief executive of New Zealand Funeral Directors, who told MPs about an 18-year-old son who had tragically took his own life during lockdown.

"The last view of their son that their parents had was him being taken away from that scene and they were unable to then subsequently see and view, as would normally be the case, their son at peace."

MPs also heard from a Wellington mum who had her partner - her support - taken away straight after giving birth, which she said felt "inhumane".

She was unable to have the natural water birth she had planned.

"I felt disempowered like my body was not my own, like I had no choice in the way in which I birthed, I felt like an animal."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded on Wednesday saying "no one should birth alone".

"I don't think anyone would think that, even in these extraordinary times, that would be reasonable."

The Prime Minister says her expectations to show compassion haven't been met.

"Some of those experiences shouldn't be had alone and it was our expectation that they shouldn't be had alone."

Newshub asked Heath Director-General Dr Ashley Bloomfield if the Government failed these people.

"No, I don't think the Government did - what's important though is that we've heard those testimonies."

He promised to make changes to prevent these horror stories from happening again.

"These are things we will use to inform our approach as we move through and down the alert levels but also updating our policies in case we have to move up the alert levels."

The Government is also currently reviewing the requests of 24 people in quarantine who were all declined exemptions to be with dying loved ones, like Renee West for her mother.

Newshub revealed she has been granted the exemption. 

Where to find help and support:

  • Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
  • Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584