Coronavirus: Ministry of Health made series of PPE errors in COVID-19 response, Auditor-General report finds

Confusion, a lack of knowledge and gaps in the system meant the Ministry of Health was not able to ensure there was enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to meet demand.

That's according to findings in a new report by the Auditor-General into management of PPE during the coronavirus crisis.

During lockdown, PPE providing the crucial barrier between healthcare workers and COVID-19 came to the fore - and with it, concerns from those on the frontline that they couldn't access it. 

The constant chorus from the Ministry of Health was that there was enough PPE, but now a damning report from the Auditor-General's found the Ministry was not well-positioned to ensure enough PPE was available throughout the country.

It also found the ministry did not know what PPE stock the DHBs held, did not have a system to forecast demand, was unable to manage the increased flow of stock, and that some PPE reserves had expired.

These were concerns healthcare workers raised for months, and they now feel vindicated.

"Nurses out there were putting their lives in danger and were saying clearly then 'we've got access problems to PPE gear'," New Zealand Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said.

"Access out there was frustrating," agreed Deborah Powell of the Resident Doctors Association. "It was slow, it was inadequate. We were getting mixed messages."

Powell is convinced that despite holes in the PPE system, the lockdown saved New Zealand from devastating waves of COVID-19.

"We got away with it because New Zealanders did so well in lockdown," she said. "Now that we've got this report we can make sure we're better prepared for next time."

After the report was released, the Minister of Health was nowhere to be seen - dodging reporters using a rear exit. The Prime Minister didn't want to answer questions either.

The Ministry of Health accepts there are lessons to learn in this report, and says it will implement all 10 recommendations.

That should mean next time, the Ministry of Health will know who has what gear, and can get its hands on new supplies - essential when dealing with a global pandemic.

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