Officials say low rank no issue despite late peak expected in flu season.

New Zealand ranks well down on the OECD's list of countries with the most hospital beds, but health officials say it's nothing to be concerned about.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has extended its free flu immunisation programme until the end of August due to the season's expected late peak.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) figures show New Zealand languishing at just 2.8 beds per 1000 people - the same as Ireland and United Kingdom - but well below leaders Japan, on 13.4, Korea, 10.3; Germany 8.3 and Australia 3.8.

But Labour's health spokeswoman Annette King said while it could look concerning, it was also a positive. "The number of beds in hospitals has been decreasing over the years because ... as technology and techniques have changed, the length of stay in hospital is reduced hugely. So the number [of beds] you need is reduced and so much more is done in the home."


Ministry of Health chief medical officer Don Mackie said hospital beds per capita was not a measure that by itself told people a lot about the quality of healthcare.

"Like many other comparable developed countries, New Zealand is moving to the modern trend of shorter in-patient stays and greater emphasis on care closer to home.

The aim is for fewer, not more, New Zealanders to require hospital beds.

"While demand for hospital beds can occasionally test a particular hospital's capacity, for example during a serious flu season, DHBs have sufficient hospital beds to cope."

Meanwhile, the country's district health boards are still reporting high numbers of influenza-like illness.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the A-H3N2 strain covered by the vaccine appears to be the predominant type and affects the elderly and very young more severely than other strains.

The vaccine is free for people aged 65 years and over, pregnant women, those with long-term conditions such as severe asthma, and children under 5 who have been hospitalised for a respiratory illness, plus people with Down syndrome and those with cochlear implants.

Dr Coleman said as of yesterday, almost 1.19 million flu vaccines had been distributed around the country, protecting more than a quarter of Kiwis. Last year 1.2 million doses were handed out.