Review finds quarantine system is under stress, under-staffed and ill-co-ordinated – but don’t count on finding a minister to accept responsibility

Latest from the Beehive –

Other than highlighting a further flow of public fundings to the beneficiaries of selected  government handouts and “investments”,  the Beehive Bugle Brigade had but one item of news to share with us at the weekend.

It came from Megan Wood in her Housing portfolio, although its purpose (according to the headline) was to assure us the Government has strengthened the managed isolation system

The press statement told of the completion of a review of the Managed Isolation and Quarantine system, commissioned just over a week ago to identify and understand current and emerging risks to ensure the end-to-end Managed Isolation and Quarantine process is robust.

But don’t believe what you read in the headlines.

The strengthening (according to the text beneath the headline) has not been completed.  Rather,

  • The report on the MIQ review tells how the government can strengthen the managed isolation system, reduce the room for error and continue to keep COVID-19 at the border and out of our communities; and
  • The government is responding with measures to address all the issues identified by the review.

We accordingly suppose the press statement was crafted to give the impression of a  government not needing to wait for the report.

The first para of the statement affirms:

A range of improvements are already underway to address issues identified in the rapid review of the Managed Isolation and Quarantine system released today, Housing Minister Megan Woods said.

Wood further used the release of the report to pump up this country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic:

“There is no play book for this kind of pandemic. We’re one of only a handful of countries in the world to require managed isolation at the border with compulsory testing, making our existing system one of the strictest globally,” Megan Woods said.

Then she gets to the report, which (she says)

” … shows how we can strengthen the managed isolation system, reduce the room for error and continue to keep COVID-19 at the border and out of our communities.

“The review found that the system is not broken but does need additional resourcing to respond to the increasing demands placed upon it as growing numbers of New Zealanders come home from global COVID-19 hotspots.”

That glibly glosses over some discomforting matters raised in the report, which tells us

  • The system is “under extreme stress”. Counter-intuitively, the move to Level 1 requires more Managed Isolation and Quarantine resourcing than under national lockdown.
  • The staff are knackered.  Almost all those involved in servicing the MIQ system have been involved in the response for a significant period with little or no real respite. Fatigue increases the risks of error. The morale of staff at the ‘frontline’ is further challenged by the behaviours of some travellers and the need to operationalise short notice policy changes.
  • There are insufficient staff. They can do no more than manage the immediate issue of trying to balance limited bed space against increasing passenger numbers. The current resourcing capacity can’t carry out the planning needed to to ensure that policies are aligned, or to test the system and provide assurance it is adhering to those policies.
  • There has been no gelling of different agencies’ perceived responsibilities, policies and operational realities. This is particularly noticeable for the
    wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Greater organisational alignment and delegations aligned to accountabilities to ensure timely decision-making. are needed  The Ministry of Health has a critical role to play in ensuring the robustness of the MIQ system but should not necessarily be the agency responsible for running the MIQ operations.
  • Some policy decisions were made with little understanding of the
    operational consequences, increasing the stress on staff on the ground. Recent changes to testing requirements are cited as an example.

So how can the PM and the relevant ministers escape responsibility for that lot?

For now, Wood is telling us:

“Actions are being taken swiftly to address all the issues that this review has identified to ensure we have the capacity and procedures to keep the system robust and working efficiently.

“The Ministry of Health will be increasing the number of clinical and non-clinical staff, such as nurses, at each facility to ensure health checks, testing and other health services are consistently delivered to the standards required.

“This will see the introduction of a dedicated model of care to service the wide-ranging public health, physical health and mental health needs of people returning to New Zealand in the facilities. Service standards will be incorporated into a proposed regulatory framework and will be subject to review,” Megan Woods said.

Even better, Air Commodore Darryn Webb says significant changes have already been introduced and work is urgently under way to address other issues raised in the report.

He has announced a doubling of the on-the-ground Defence Force staff of 32, across 18 facilities.  At the time of the releae of the report, there were 168 NZDF personnel across 21 facilities providing 24/7 coverage. There are also more government and defence staff across the end-to-end system.

“This increased resourcing has had an immediate impact on the ground in terms of making sure our people are well supported to carry out their roles and ensure the safe transfer of returnees into managed isolation.

“The increase in resourcing will form the backbone of further changes that are being made to ensure the system is robust and fit-for-purpose.

“We have also increased oversight of the transfer of returnees from aircraft through to Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities so they are escorted by government staff.”

Other improvements rolling out now include:

  • Increased security for transferring returnees to managed isolation facilities
  • The standardisation of procedures across all facilities
  • The introduction of better information for returnees – from flight boarding through to entry into New Zealand and their exit from Managed Isolation.
  • Better information to communities where those facilities are located.
  • Strengthening of demand forecasting, reporting functions and coordination between agencies.

Health responses include:

  • More staff in facilities
  • Improved model of care – including taking into account issues like mental health and addiction issues
  • More clinical oversight to ensure a consistent quality of service in facilities
  • Monitoring to ensure there is consistency across facilities

Related Documents

As we said at the start of this post on the latest from the Beehive, all the other Beehive releases at the weekend dealt with handouts  and investments.

Release

29 JUNE 2020

PGF funding for Parihaka settlement

 

Hon Andrew Little Hon Shane Jones

Regional Economic Development

Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations

Release

28 JUNE 2020

Government strengthens managed isolation system

A range of improvements are already underway to address issues identified in the rapid review of the Managed Isolation and Quarantine system released today, Housing Minister Megan Woods said.

Hon Dr Megan Woods

Housing

Release

27 JUNE 2020

Whakatāne to go predator free with Government backing Ngāti Awa led efforts

The important brown kiwi habitat around Whakatāne will receive added protection through an Iwi-led predator free project announced by Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage and

Hon Eugenie Sage Fletcher Tabuteau

Conservation

Regional Economic Development

Release

27 JUNE 2020

PGF accelerates Rotorua projects

The Rotorua Museum redevelopment and Whakarewarewa and Tokorangi Forest projects will be accelerated thanks to a $2.09 million Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) boost.

Fletcher Tabuteau

Regional Economic Development

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