Six extra urgent-care beds at Tauranga Hospital will not be ready until April next year in what a Bay of Plenty MP has labelled "a dereliction of duty".
Health Minister Andrew Little announced $15 million of funding last Friday which was expected to result in two additional intensive care unit (ICU) beds and four high dependency unit (HDU) beds in Tauranga. This would help the city cope with Covid-19.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board acting chief operating officer Bronwyn Anstis said the beds were expected to be ready by the end of April next year.
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller acknowledged the work of the DHB to get the beds ready by April but believed it should have had the money and support from the Ministry of Health to have them in place before Christmas.
Muller said it was a "dereliction of duty" that the ministry had not planned or funded these beds "months ago".
With the Auckland border opening on Wednesday, this would "likely", according to experts, lead to greater exposure to Covid-19 in the community, he said.
"And we should have those beds ready now."
He said people had expected that, after getting through the first wave of Covid-19 last year, the country would prepare for "the inevitable next wave" happening in the rest of the world, he said.
Muller said it felt like the Government was "extremely late to the programme" to announce funding for ICU beds for next year.
"If our hospital comes under pressure and we don't have enough beds well then the accountability for that sits squarely at the feet of this Government."
On Friday Little said, in a media statement, Cabinet had earmarked $100 million of capital funding from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund to accelerate these ICU projects.
"The first hospitals to receive money from this fund are North Shore, Tauranga and Christchurch, and I expect to announce funding for further projects soon.
"Through good planning, we have avoided what the Covid-19 pandemic has done in some countries, where hospitals have been over-run.
"Our ICU facilities have remained available for every person needing that level of care, whether they have Covid-19 or something else."
Little's office was contacted regarding Muller's comments.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board indicative modelling reported on November 10 by the Bay of Plenty Times found at a 90 per cent eligible vaccination rate, 20,000 Covid cases, 1200 hospitalisations and 130 deaths were estimated for the DHB's region next year.
Ministry of Health data showed as of December 7, 92 per cent of the DHB's eligible population had received one dose, and 84 per cent were fully vaccinated.
According to the Ministry of Health, there are 259,090 people in the Bay of Plenty DHB region, with hospitals in Tauranga and Whakatāne.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board Covid-19 incident controller Trevor Richardson confirmed Tauranga Hospital had six intensive care unit (ICU) beds and 12 ventilators, with Tauranga being able to "provide additional ICU bed capacity".
Tauranga had four high dependency unit (HDU) beds and six coronary care unit (CCU) beds.
Whakatāne Hospital - also in the DHB's area - had two ICU, HDU and CCU beds and two ventilators.
All of those beds were commissioned and budgeted in terms of staffing and infrastructure to support the clinical care of patients, Richardson said.
Bed spaces in CCU and HDU could manage "critically unwell" patients, including the use of ventilators and patient monitoring, he said.
The DHB's Covid-19 response plan included using CCU and HDU beds to expand capacity for "critically unwell" patients, Richardson said.
Tauranga Hospital was prepared to admit Covid patients from the Eastern Bay of Plenty for intensive care therapies such as ventilation.
The DHB had plans for Covid-positive patients to be cared for in designated rooms in the emergency department and in-patient areas.
Where possible, single rooms with negative pressure airflow would be used, or cohorts of Covid-positive patients would be managed within designated Covid wards.
The DHB had received funding from the Ministry of Health to increase the number of negative pressure rooms at Tauranga Hospital to improve capacity to separate Covid-19 positive patients from non-Covid patients.
Whakatāne Hospital also had plans for increasing the capacity to separate Covid-19 positive patients in the emergency department, ICU/HDU and a ward, he said.
In Parliamentary Question Time on Tuesday, National leader Chris Luxon tried to push Ardern on why the Government's $50 billion Covid-19 fund had not significantly increased ICU capacity.
Ardern countered by saying the Government's strategy had been to keep people out of ICU in the first place.
"Our focus has been about making sure people don't end up in ICU," Ardern said.
According to the New Zealand Medical Journal, "New Zealand has one of the lowest levels of ICU beds per capita in the OECD at 4 per 100,000 population".
The comparative rate in Australia is 9 beds per 100,000 people.