Manatū Hauora – the Ministry of Health is today publishing a review of the 2022 COVID-19 winter surge package and which has underpinned this year’s planning.
The winter surge package for last year was developed to ease pressure on the health sector as the pandemic and other respiratory illnesses surged.
The range of measures was designed to reduce severe illness and stop hospitals becoming overwhelmed. They included expanding access and eligibility to second boosters, antiviral medicines, free masks and rapid antigen tests, with a focus on reaching those most vulnerable to COVID-19, including Māori, Pacific and disabled people.
The Rapid Review, carried out by Allen + Clarke, was aimed at identifying lessons that could inform our preparation for this winter.
Regular yearly winter pressures were compounded last year by COVID-19, the re-opening of New Zealand’s border and the subsequent re-emergence of infectious diseases such as influenza.
A significant increase in COVID-19 cases, combined with staff vacancies, fatigue, and illness among healthcare workers interrupted planned and preventative healthcare and screening.
During this time, the health sector was also reformed. Te Whatu Ora and Te Aka Whai Ora (the Māori Health Authority) were established on 1 July as statutory entities to operate in partnership with Manatū Hauora. The reforms were designed to create a more equitable, accessible, cohesive and people-centred health system.
The review highlighted successful measures such as expanding access to antivirals, increasing vaccine booster uptake and aligning expanded access to vaccines with the winter flu campaign.
It was not able to quantify the success of any measures in isolation but concluded the winter surge package contributed to a decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations.
The review identified areas where improvements could be made such as clearer communication about changes in booster dose eligibility, and a greater effort to reach Māori and Pasifika peoples and inform them of the additional winter support available.
The review also found the health sector reforms, in particular the movement of staff, roles and responsibilities across agencies, impacted winter surge planning.
Manatū Hauora and Te Whatu Ora have now improved their response to COVID-19 surges and this report has helped inform Te Whatu Ora’s winter preparedness plan for 2023.
The review also touches on broader long-standing health inequity for Māori and Pacific people. The health reforms of last year and the Te Pae Tata New Zealand Health Plan 2022 are specifically targeted at addressing these issues and improving health inequity across Aotearoa New Zealand. One of priorities of Te Pae Tata is to place whānau at the heart of the health system to improve equity and health outcomes. This includes implementing mechanisms to ensure Te Whatu Ora and Te Aka Whai Ora value the voices of consumers and whānau in all their service design and improvements, including Māori, Pacific, Tāngata whaikaha, disabled people, and ethnic and rainbow communities.
Manatū Hauora and Te Whatu Ora are focused on meeting their obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, improving access to quality, timely, and culturally safe health care, and ensuring partnerships with providers and communities. There is also a focus on Pacific people, rural communities, disabled people and other priority populations.