Questions asked over ICU capacity

Politicians are debating whether Middlemore Hospital’s intensive care unit is prepared to cope with rising cases of Covid-19. Times photo Wayne Martin

The Government has failed to properly prepare for the outbreak of the Covid-19 Delta strain by increasing Middlemore Hospital’s ICU capacity by just one bed in the past year.

That’s the view of Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown and Botany MP Christopher Luxon, who say the news will be of “huge concern” to local residents.

Middlemore provides medical care to people living in the Counties Manukau District Health Board area, which covers east and south Auckland.

Brown and Luxon say information provided by Health Minister Andrew Little shows the Government increased the capacity of the hospital’s intensive care and high dependency unit (ICU/HDU) by a single bed in the past 12 months.

“On 20 April 2020, Middlemore Hospital reported having 24 ICU/HDU beds available for use as Covid-19 was first spreading in New Zealand,” the MPs say.

“The latest numbers, as of 28 September 2021, show there are now 25 beds available.

“After the [Covid] case spikes, lockdowns and tragic deaths in the last year, you would think increasing ICU/HDU capacity would be a priority for the Government and our local DHB.”

As of November 15 there were 90 Covid patients in New Zealand hospitals.

Seven of those people were in ICU.

Brown and Luxon say Middlemore’s ICU capacity increasing by one bed in the past year is the “icing on the cake” when it comes to things the Government should have done over the last 12 months, but didn’t.

“This is just our local preparedness,” the MPs say.

“A one-bed increase is actually better than the country as a whole, where our nationwide ICU capacity hasn’t increased at all.

“Given Covid-19 Response Minister [Chris Hipkins] has said he expects case numbers in Auckland to grow significantly over the short term, we know many in east Auckland will be worried about whether the Government has made the investment to ensure we can take care of those who are sick.”

In response to recent oral questions in the Parliament about ICU capacity in New Zealand hospitals, Little said the Government has worked with DHBs since last year to ensure they can release additional ICU or HDU capacity or care for people who need it.

“So whereas before the pandemic, there were, roughly, 243 ICU beds … there are other beds in hospitals, in other parts of hospitals such as in post-operative recovery, that can be converted immediately into ICU or HDU-level care.

“And that increases ICU or HDU-level care to somewhere between 320 and 340 beds across the nation.”

Little said hospitals can increase their ICU and HDU-level care capacity to between 320-340 beds.

“They can, by deferring or delaying or cancelling other hospital-level care, increase that to up to 550 beds.

“That is the advice of DHBs to the Ministry of Health and that has also been overseen by intensive care specialists who have accepted it is possible to make those conversions, to increase that capacity, to provide the care that is needed for those who need it in response to Covid-19.”