Omicron outbreak: Ashley Bloomfield says there's no crisis in health system, admits staff are 'under pressure' and some care being deferred

The Director-General is denying the healthcare system is in crisis after doctors hit out at the Health Ministry for failing to communicate a plan to deal with the coming wave of other winter illnesses amid the Omicron outbreak. 

Doctors are already overseeing the care of tens of thousands of people isolating at home - and say routine care like overseeing mental health issues, diabetes and cancer care is being compromised. 

And now the risk of flu, RSV and whooping cough approaches - right when we're opening up the borders and the Omicron outbreak is yet to peak. 

But speaking with AM on Thursday, Ashley Bloomfield said the system isn't in crisis. 

"I don't think it is a crisis in the health sector. There's no doubt that general practice and, in fact, the whole system is under a lot of pressure at the moment with this big Omicron wave. 

"We had planned for that and general practice and general practice leaders have been a very big part of that planning. There is a lot of support out there for them to help them through this period and they're doing a fantastic job."

But Bloomfield admitted some care was being put off as the health system deals with the wave of COVID-19 cases. 

"Of course, it does mean, and this is happening in our hospitals as well, that some care is being deferred. 

"In the case of general practice and primary care, some of that is important preventative care like cervical screening and perhaps some of their checks on people with long term conditions. 

"We have always expected that through the Omicron peak but of course, as they have said it's now important that we sit down and work out a plan for how we catch up that care and also get ready for winter with other viruses likely to come across the border like flu."

He said every year officials plan for an increase of illness over winter and this year is no different. 

"We do winter planning every year anyway regardless of whether we've got COVID in the country so that is well underway.

"We will be going very hard on ensuring all those people who are eligible for free flu vaccination - over 65s, pregnant people, anyone with preexisting conditions of any age - that they get that vaccine, so that's an essential part of the planning…but also thinking of ways we can support hospitals to look after those extra cases that they will see over winter."

The Director-General of Health said while the county as a whole is yet to see the Omicron outbreak's peak, Auckland has. 

"We've definitely had that peak in Auckland and, of course, Auckland was first out of the blocks as they have been right through the pandemic.

"We are definitely seeing the case numbers there much lower than they were a week or two ago which is good. Hospitalisations there though, as we would expect for the next week or two, are still creeping upwards but we are seeing in other areas around the country the case numbers are still going up.

"Overall across the country we are still around that 20,000 cases a day, let's see what happens over the next week or so if those cases start to drop."

It comes after 19,542 new cases in the community were announced on Wednesday. There are also 971 people in hospital and 22 in ICU. Twenty-four new deaths were also reported among people with COVID-19, eight of whom died on Tuesday. The remainder died over the past three weeks and have only just been reported to the ministry by local authorities.