National MP Chris Bishop suspects clinicians were 'pressured' to U-turn on Fijian United Nations COVID-19 patient

National MP Chris Bishop suspects clinicians were "pressured" to allow a Fijian COVID-positive United Nations worker to be treated in New Zealand after it was initially decided against the day before. 

"One day we didn't have capacity for one patient in ICU and then 24 to 36 hours later, apparently on their own volition, we do have capacity for one case from Fiji," Bishop said during a Health Select Committee meeting on Wednesday. 

"Do you sort of see why a lot of people think that doesn't really pass the sniff test? Something's happened here, pressure's come from someone or some entity and we want to know what happened."

It follows National leader Judith Collins calling on former UN Development Programme administrator Helen Clark to confirm she played no part in influencing the decision, after the former Prime Minister confirmed the request came from the UN. 

Collins made the call after Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta confirmed Clark got in touch with her about transferring the patient to Auckland. But Mahuta said Clark's phone call did not influence clinicians' decision. 

Collins called on Clark to "come out and confirm whether or not she was involved in that, wading in," adding: "We think that Helen Clark, if there is no political interference, should come out and say that."

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield admitted on Wednesday that his team "were talking with foreign affairs" officials, but he "certainly had no conversations with foreign affairs directly, nor with Helen Clark". 

Dr Bloomfield said he never questioned the fact the request was initially declined over "capacity reasons", but a day later it was decided the worker could be treated in New Zealand. 

"It was apparent on further conversation, including the leaders of all three intensive care units, that there was capacity in the Auckland region to accept the patient, and so the arrangements were made to transfer the patient from Fiji," Dr Bloomfield said. 

"That was the advice I was given so I was happy to take that advice... What I can confirm is that at no point did the Ministry of Health override clinical decision-making here."

Dr Bloomfield said there were initial concerns about the RSV virus, which has been overrunning some hospitals, from Whangarei to Tauranga. 

"One of the concerns the clinicians had in their initial response was not so much just their current ICU capacity, but what could happen over coming days, especially because there had been a couple of weeks before this the big surge in RSV, which had declined in the preceding week, but they were concerned about the possibility of a resurgence."

Dr Bloomfield said the decision ultimately lay with clinicians. 

"I've been a clinician myself and ultimately, the clinicians need to be happy they have the capacity and the capability to accept and treat the patient."

Fiji is currently facing a coronavirus crisis. Infections continue to rise on the island nation, with 1220 new cases recorded in the last 24 hours, and the death toll reaching more than 260.

Dr Collin Tukuitonga, Auckland University Associate Professor of Public Health, told Newshub the transfer of the patient was a bad idea. 

"I think it's a dreadful decision for a number of reasons. One is it puts us at unnecessary risk," he said. "We are, in a sense, playing with fire."