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Auditor-General Report: Ministry Of Health: Management Of PPE In Response To Covid-19

Our report Ministry of Health: Management of personal protective equipment in response to Covid-19 was presented to the House of Representatives today.

The public health response that Covid-19 required has been unprecedented in our lifetimes. During the early stages of New Zealand’s response, there was widespread concern from people across the health sector about whether there was enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and whether it was getting to the health and disability workers who needed it. This prompted us to carry out a review into how the Ministry of Health has been managing the national reserve of PPE, and the ongoing supply of PPE to healthcare workers, during the response.

Covid-19 would have tested any health system, as we have seen overseas. The Ministry and district health boards (DHBs) had planned for a national health emergency. They maintain a national supply of critical clinical items, including PPE, to ensure health services have continued access to them during large or prolonged emergencies when supply chains are expected to be more vulnerable. However, we found gaps in the Ministry’s planning and a lack of clarity over roles and responsibilities for both planning for, and providing, PPE in a pandemic.

In our view, a national crisis needs national systems. New Zealand’s health and disability system is semi-devolved, with often complex arrangements between the Ministry, DHBs, and other organisations. Despite having national reserve supplies, in early February 2020 the Ministry did not know what PPE stock the DHBs held in their reserve supplies or have a system to forecast demand. Some of the public reassurance about PPE appears to have led to confusion about who could get access to PPE, and in what circumstances.

The Ministry and DHBs worked hard to adapt their processes during the “lockdown” phases of the country’s response to Covid-19. The Ministry moved quickly to set up a new centralised system for procuring, prioritising, and distributing PPE stock.

We have made 10 recommendations to help strengthen the management of PPE. There is always the risk of a resurgence of Covid-19, or of a new health emergency. In times of crisis, people need to have trust and confidence in the systems and arrangements set up to support them. To be sufficiently prepared in the future, the health and disability sector needs a clear understanding of what PPE is held where, who it should be provided to, a way of forecasting demand, and a scalable system for procuring and distributing stock. This will provide some assurance that the right PPE is available and that it is getting to the right people, at the right place, at the right time.

Read the full report on our website.

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