Targeted independent inspections of aged-care facilities will start this week amid a number of outbreaks to asses their response to Covid-19.
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said the number of deaths and outbreaks in aged-care facilities meant he'd brought forward inspections planned for next year.
There are now six significant clusters of coronavirus linked to aged-care facilities across New Zealand after a new one in Auckland was announced this morning.
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Before the Covid-19 pandemic, inspections were set to start from mid next year but "the present crisis" reset plans, Boshier said.
As the New Zealand Parliament's watchdog for people detained in secure aged care facilities, Boshier said he "must act now".
The assessments would focus on key issues concerning the care of residents detained in the facilities because of dementia or other causes.
Boshier said they were some of the most vulnerable people in the aged-care sector.
"I believe the public needs reassurance about two things - that the facilities are doing all they can to prevent the virus from spreading to those most at risk, and that steps are being taken to make sure the basic human rights of residents are protected."
"I have also been concerned at local media reports about the dislocation of families during the lockdown, where residents have little or no access to their loved ones."
Yesterday, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield announced a review of how the six aged care facilities nationwide that have had coronavirus cases responded, and how other facilities have prepared.
He hoped that would be done with the Aged Care Association, and would show "what has worked well, and what could be improved".
Bloomfield's comments were made after the Heraldrevealed the coronavirus outbreak at Rosewood spread so rapidly that there were subsequent shortcomings in a range of practices.
"In the demanding context of managing a cluster of frail elderly residents, a significant number of staff needed to be isolated because of exposure to Covid-19 and this contributed to a number of issues regarding safe practice, including the way PPE [personal protective equipment] was used," a Canterbury DHB spokesman said.
Boshier today welcomed Bloomfield's review of the facility outbreaks and acknowledged it was "a challenging time for both staff and residents".
A small "tightly focused" team will visit a variety of secure aged care facilities across the country and will assess them against a set of criteria specifically developed for this pandemic and aligned with United Nations' advice.
Staff carrying out the inspections have been cleared as essential workers and would wear PPE if needed and would work with the Ministry of Health's safety guidelines, Boshier said.
New Zealand is signed up to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) treaty to protect the rights and conditions of those held in detention.
It also monitors the treatment and conditions of people held in other places of detention, including prisons and other health and disability facilities.
Bloomfield said he hoped Boshier's findings would compliment his own and that they could be used to strengthen the safety of residents and staff at aged-care facilities.