Omicron outbreak: More than 800 Counties Manukau DHB staff off work due to Covid-19

By Rowan Quinn of RNZ

More than 800 Counties Manukau DHB staff are not at work because they’re sick or a member of their household has Covid-19, as case numbers in hospitals rise.

And all of Auckland’s district health boards are now postponing some non-urgent operations, with 283 Covid-19 patients in hospitals across the city yesterday.

A Counties Manukau District Health Board spokesperson said 13.5 per cent of staff were not at work yesterday because they’re either sick or someone in their home has Covid-19.

There are about 6500 people employed at the DHB across Middlemore Hospital, the Manukau Super Clinic, and other South Auckland health facilities, meaning about 880 were affected.

The DHB did not specify how many were in clinical roles.

Clinical director of surgery John Kenealy said in a statement the DHB had postponed 147 non-critical surgical procedures in the past two weeks, about 10 per cent of planned operations over that time.

It was not clear what the percentage was for the past few days when Covid-19 patients at Middlemore had risen to 128.

There had been no disruption to acute and urgent surgery, and some non-urgent operations were still able to go ahead, Kenealy said.

Auckland Hospital confirmed last week it was drastically cutting back on planned care, with Greenlane Hospital doing very little of it at all.

Waitematā DHB was deferring some planned operations, partly because some theatres in its Elective Surgery Centre had been converted into rooms to care for Covid-19 patients.

A spokesperson said it would minimise the number by transferring some patients to North Shore and Waitakere hospitals.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation Waitematā DHB organiser Sarah Barker said about 120 staff were away because of Covid-19 yesterday .

Nurses there, and across Auckland, were feeling the pressure of colleagues being away because their workplaces were already so short-staffed, she said.

“Nurses are incredibly resilient. Some are now pushed to the sort of levels of stress they’ve potentially never experienced before,” she said.

The DHB had a good plan for caring for people with Covid-19 but it was other services that would miss out, as resources were diverted, she said.

Waikato Hospital, which had 28 cases yesterday, the most outside of Auckland, was also delaying some non-urgent planned surgery.

It has been very difficult to get straight answers from most district health boards on planned surgery.

RNZ sent emails to every DHB, except Auckland, a week ago asking whether there were changes to planned care and how many staff were isolating because of Covid-19.

All forwarded the queries to the Ministry of Health.

The ministry has not provided RNZ with an answer, despite repeated requests, other than an initial response that said planned care disruptions had long been part of hospitals’ strategies for dealing with a large Covid-19 outbreak.

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