Ability to contain outbreaks questioned.

New documents reveal serious flaws in New Zealand's ability to contain an outbreak of Ebola or other deadly diseases.

The Herald on Sunday has obtained a nine-page Health Ministry debrief of the handling of two suspected Ebola cases this year.

Both scares involved Kiwi nurses with symptoms of infection after returning from Sierra Leone, the epicentre of the West African outbreak where almost 4000 have died.

Both eventually got the all-clear, but the report warns had one tested positive, New Zealand's response system would have faced serious challenges. Concerns included:


• NZ's emergency plan "light" on "disease management";

• Low stock of protective equipment for frontline medics;

• A lack of adequate options for transporting patients;

• Insufficient staff training and preparation;

• One patient reportedly dissatisfied with the level of care.

Labour deputy leader and health spokeswoman Annette King said despite requesting an update at a recent select committee "there was no mention of this report".

"There are obviously flaws in our preparedness. We were told things were in place and it ran smoothly. It was more luck than good management that nothing happened," King said.

"For a Government to try to cover up an issue like this, or withhold information, it means people don't know there's a problem.


King also levelled criticism at Minister of Health Dr Jonathan Coleman, who she said misled Parliament over whether New Zealand had isopods - individual containment chambers vital to transporting a potentially infectious person in isolation.

"He said in a reply to a question in the House that we had isopods. We actually did not," King said.

"The Ministry's official briefing later said that was not true, they were still waiting for them to arrive."

Coleman confirmed the isopods weren't in the country at the time of his response, but his answer was correct and the nation was prepared.

"The response was accurate. The isopods had been procured and extensive preparations were under way to prepare for their arrival and possible future use," a spokeswoman for Coleman said.

"Government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, were well prepared to respond to any potential cases of Ebola.

"This was highlighted in the management of the two suspected cases which turned out to be negative."

Coleman also said the review document has been "shared widely with the health sector, including public health units, ambulance services and other Government agencies".

In March, Gore nurse Bronwyn McBain showed symptoms of Ebola when she returned to New Zealand from working with patients in Sierra Leone.

But this week, she told the Herald on Sunday she had "no idea" why the report claimed "during the first case ambulance staff reportedly did not brief the patient during the transport from home to the receiving hospital" and "the patient felt they received little effective emotional support or contact from crews".

"The level of care I received was excellent," McBain said.

In April, a Nelson health worker returned home, sparking a second Ebola scare, but also tested negative. The Ministry of Health is updating the 2004 National Health Emergency Plan for Infectious Diseases.

Ebola is a haemorrhagic fever that has claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia since its outbreak last year.