Ministry of Health's message to employers about COVID texts as GPs face intense pressure

Text messages identifying employees as having COVID-19 or as household contacts can be used as proof of needing time off work, the Ministry of Health is reminding employers.

The ministry is making the point as general practices come under intense pressure dealing with a rising number of COVID-19 cases, the returns of the flu, as well as overflow from hospitals.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Health, employers are reminded "that they can consider the text messages it sends to people positive with COVID-19 and their household contacts, as proof of needing time off work".

"Texts from 2328 or 2648 are sent to a COVID-19 positive person and any household contacts they identify," the ministry said.

"The first text confirms their COVID-19 positive test and the need to isolate, and the second confirms they can leave isolation and return to work if they feel well. Household contacts receive a text saying they are free to leave isolation if their day 7 RAT test is negative."

These text messages are "reliable evidence" employees need time off work and can be used "rather than asking for a traditional GP 'medical certificate', which creates additional work for general practice at a particularly busy time of the year".

Last week, Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners medical director Dr Bryan Betty told AM that the situation in the health sector was "very serious".

"There is very little spare capacity in the system at the moment due to the fact we have flu, we still have significant COVID around, we have other winter viruses floating around and often doctors, and nurses themselves are sick, so the workforce goes down," he said.

"What is critically important is that we keep capacity open for those who do need to be seen urgently or do need that appointment. So it's a very difficult situation at the moment."

There were also reports hospitals were handing out vouchers for free GP after-hour and remote appointments to patients who don't require emergency care.