Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Fears vulnerable patients falling through cracks due to ministry IT issues

The health needs of vulnerable people who are caught in the Omicron wave are falling through the cracks, as new government IT systems struggle to cope with demand.

The issues, if not addressed quickly, could affect many more cases in need as the peak of the Omicron wave hits in the coming weeks.

Yesterday was yet another set of daily records: 22,152 new recorded community cases, 405 of whom are in hospital, including 10 people in intensive care units. There were 123,836 active cases.

But the peak will see these numbers climb, with modellers estimating a peak of between 800 and 2000 peak hospitalisations.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health admitted there were “issues with the speed” in its notification system – the Covid Clinical Care Module (CCCM) – which is used by GPs and health providers to connect with the needs of Covid patients.

The ministry was responding to a tweet from researcher and indigenous rights advocate Tina Ngata, in which she said she had heard of the system “crashing”.

Live blog follows:

“Whanau at home with no kai, no nappies, no clinical contact and no support for 3-5 days bc health and welfare providers can’t access the notification system,” Ngata tweeted.

The ministry did not know how many patients may have been affected, but there had been “intermittent delays” in cases’ health needs – but not welfare needs – being notified for the last week and a half.

“Depending on demand, the links between other systems and the CCCM and are not always providing a real time view about people with Covid-19 that require support,” the ministry said in a statement.

“During the past 10 days, the increasing number of cases and multiple concurrent changes to IT systems that support the care of Covid-19 cases has resulted in intermittent delays in notifying cases.”

The number of affected cases fluctuates constantly, the ministry said.

“It is not possible to provide an accurate number at a given time.”

The ministry added that it was investigating the case of a whanau having difficulty accessing support.

The ministry’s webpage for people requesting rapid antigen tests was also down yesterday morning, but later fixed.

Te Whanau o Waipareira Trust chief operating officer Awerangi Tamihere said she was aware of the system issues.

She said the wider problem, which had the same result of patients’ needs being unmet, was that Auckland community providers such as Waipareira weren’t being properly resourced.

“We are now nearly on 3000 calls a day, which we’re just overwhelmed by. It’s taking all our time to just do vaccinations, delivering RATs (rapid antigen tests) and to respond to our most vulnerable for food and so forth.

“It does not meet – at all – what people need, which is a far bigger system of support at home. RATs are not coming in quick enough, so people are panicking because they can’t get them. And we don’t know when our next lot is coming.”

She said many of the people contacting the trust aren’t even aware of how to report their needs online.

“And when they ring the Ministry of Health, there’s no answer. They’ve been positive for days, and they still don’t get any support.”

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the ministry had developed a number of new IT solutions “very quickly” to cater for the

new era of the Covid response

.

“They’ll continue to refine and improve those. Obviously, it’s regrettable when IT systems go down. I know they’re working to resolve any issues that crop up as soon as they can.”

He said hospitals around the country will come under pressure in the coming weeks as the Omicron wave peaks, which will be harder to manage if the number of infections rise steeply.

“It could be in the next few weeks, it could be longer than that,” he said when asked to estimate when the peak would land.

“And what we also don’t know is how steep the mountain is going to be on either side [of the peak]. Are we going to go straight up and then come down again steeply, or will we sustain a higher level [of cases] for a period of time?

“It’s crystal ball gazing … but it’s going to be challenging over the next four to six weeks.”

Yesterday there was 80.8 per cent ICU occupancy, 64.5 per cent occupancy of hospital ward beds, and 13.9 per cent of ventilators were being used.

“Covid-19 only makes up a very small fraction of those numbers, so there still is capacity there to respond to increasing case numbers,” Hipkins said.

There were 105 million RATs arriving this month, and he urged people not to panic-buy them.

The Government will decide the future of MIQ in next week or two, and was getting advice on vaccine mandates and the vaccine pass.

When to scrap the pass, Hipkins said, would be based on public health advice rather than any of the demands of the protest group around Parliament, which was broken up by police during a day of at-times tense confrontations.


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