Prime Minister Chris Hipkins calls Te Whatu Ora emergency department data error 'unacceptable'

  • 10/03/2023

The Prime Minister has called the publication of incorrect emergency department (ED) wait time data "unacceptable" but acknowledged mistakes "happen from time to time". 

Te Whatu Ora/Health NZ on Thursday admitted a "publication error in data" on its website relating to ED wait times in November and December 2022 for 10 areas. The result was the data showing a higher percentage of people attending an ED within target time than the reality.

"We want to assure the public the underlying data collection, collation and assessment was and remains robust; the error we made related to the publication process," chief executive Margie Apa said. 

"We have identified what went wrong in our pre-publication assurance process, and have implemented a change. This is important to maintain public confidence in our health system."

The incorrect data has since been taken offline and Apa said the organisation regrets the error.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB on Friday morning, Hipkins said it was "unacceptable". 

“Clearly they put some data up that was incorrect and that’s unacceptable. That will happen from time to time. Human beings are human." 

The comments came during a conversation about officials or politicians giving the public false or incomplete information, with another example being the assertion that there wasn't a crime issue in Hawke's Bay after Cyclone Gabrielle - despite locals increasingly scared and speaking of guns being drawn at road stops. 

Hipkins said one of the challenges he has experienced, especially during his time as the COVID-19 Response Minister, is the "pressure from people to want to know answers to questions".

"In many cases, you're actually working with imperfect information because you know, it's not 100 percent verified yet," he said.

"We found that a lot during the COVID response, where people were saying, you know, what's happening here, or what's happening there, there is a rumour that X…. and we're trying to say, what we know is Y. You're not always working off perfect information.

"There's a real tension there between people wanting answers and people wanting to know that those answers are accurate."

He said that was ongoing during the COVID-19 pandemic, with regular questions about where cases were.

"In many cases, in order to investigate that, to find out the answers to that, those answers aren't immediate. So we would have to say, what we know is X. Sometimes the facts change. 

"Sometimes the information that we had, that we were given at the time, wasn't 100 percent accurate, because the people who were producing that information weren't working on 100 percent reliable information either."

Hipkins said we live in a world where false information "can spread really fast". 

"In order for governments to actually put factual information out there, we are, by definition, slower in doing that because if we want verifiable factual information, it takes longer."

With regards to crime in Hawke's Bay, Hipkins initially dismissed some reports as "unsubstantiated rumours". It's a stance he later climbed down from as more stories came out.

"If people took from one of the comments I made any suggestion that I was diminishing the way they were feeling, I certainly regret that."

One report was of roadworkers having a gun drawn at them. It later emerged that first-hand accounts of that situation taken by police officers were passed on to Police National Headquarters, but this information wasn't given to the Prime Minister. 

The Police Commissioner later apologised to Hipkins for the mistake by his team.