Report into Covid-19 response finds failings with testing strategy, communication

A report into New Zealand’s Covid-19 response showed there were failings with the testing strategy and a lack communication from the Ministry of Health during this year’s outbreaks.

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The Minister for Covid-19 Response says the Government did what it could during an “unprecedented” event. Source: 1 NEWS

The independent report by Roche and Simpson released today looked at how New Zealand’s Covid-19 response played out and gave the Government recommendations following failures identified in the report.

Senior advisers Heather Simpson and Sir Brian Roche were urgently commissioned in August to review the regime after revelations many border staff were not being tested for Covid-19.

The report looked into a raft of issues from communication between the Ministry of Health and Public Health Units and DHBs to border management orders.

Source: 1 NEWS

The report found there was a lack of clarity around New Zealand’s testing regime and a lack of forward planning.

“Despite the Ministry of Health providing numerous written reports it is clear to the Committee that report of progress on the issues did not always reflect concrete action on the ground,” the report reads.

The key issues that were found:

-Consistency and quality of communication, and consultation with relevant stakeholders was sub-optimal

-Inappropriate accountability for various aspects of the strategies and their implementation

-Border control directives have been difficult to understand and implement

-Lack of clarity in the testing framework

-Lack of good forward planning from the perspective of an end to end system

-Underutilisation of health expertise outside the Ministry of Health leading to sub optimal analysis and planning documents

-Lack of confidence in data being reported to key decision makers.

Poor communication by the Ministry of Health with those working on the ground was also highlighted in the report.

It found Government agencies were concerned about their ability to be heard by the Ministry of Health and about the ministry’s lack of preparedness.

“There was a feeling that a lack of preparedness to understand the implications of some of the advice being offered put the government and key affected parties in a difficult position," the report read.

“Health sector service providers expressed frustration at receiving last minute instructions for changes which they believed did not recognise much of what was already happening on the ground.”

DHBs and Public Health Units also raised concerns over the changes to testing target numbers which they said were delivered by the ministry with “little warning and little flexibility to manage efficient resource deployment. They also noted that written communications were often confusing.

“Documentation changes often without clear identification of the significant changes included. Language is used inconsistently and with many publications it is very unclear as to who the target audience is. As a result, messages aimed at clinicians (for instance) are intermingled with messages for decision makers or for the general public. This makes it very difficult to easily understand the changes which are being made.”

In response to the report, the Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins released the Government’s plan following to put more money into the response.

The Government is now setting up a new central response unit to oversee the overall response.

It's committing about $1.1 billion until June 2022 to bolster testing and contact tracing - and roughly $1.7 billion for the managed isolation regime.

Other commitments include:

-Funding to support the Covid-19 health response and quarantine facilities for a further 18 months

-Money drawn down from the Covid-19 contingency fund

-Further improvements to health response administration and governance

-Lessons learned on surveillance and testing

“These are significant investments that are critical to keeping our defences strong. Keeping Covid-19 out and quickly managing any incursions that do occur is an expensive business but it’s the best investment we can make for our health and our economy,” Hipkins said.

“As well as continuing high levels of frontline delivery, the extra health funding will enable the Ministry to enhance its oversight and policy roles and other activities through a new Covid-19 Response Directorate and to continue to make improvements to the way it operates. That includes a focus on improved Information Technology.”