Lee-Ann Ottenhof made a desperate mercy-dash across the Tasman to say goodbye to her dying father, only to finally gain Government permission to see him when it was too late.

Now she wants a policy change that would allow every person entering the country to see a gravely ill relative a short visit to say goodbye.

"I want the Prime Minister to know they are still not getting it right," Ottenhof said.

When the Perth-based Kiwi applied for an exemption from managed isolation she was asked by the Ministry of Health to provide more medical information.


However, the Waitematā DHB would not provide supporting information because her father was due to be discharged in the coming days and they felt the case was unlikely to meet the Ministry of Health's criteria.

At 76, Wayne Hart had still been sharp - always awake at 6am with a cup of coffee in hand, and two Anzac biscuits, ready to complete the New Zealand Herald crossword. He regularly talked to his daughter and they often exchanged laughs.

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But in mid-April, it was discovered that Hart had a lung tumour and when his back became too painful to do anything other than lie down he was admitted to hospital.

It was then confirmed he had stage four lung cancer.

The family doctor penned a letter confirming he was "gravely ill", which satisfied the Australian Border Force to allow Ottenhof to urgently fly to Auckland via Melbourne to visit him.

But since arriving at Auckland Airport with her partner on May 4, she was confined to the nearby Novotel hotel unable to see her dad who was often too exhausted to speak on the phone.

"I knew my father was gravely ill. You know your nearest and dearest better than anyone else does," she said.


"When he didn't want to speak to me, I knew there was a problem. And he just got weaker and weaker and weaker."

Ottenhof had immediately applied for exemption based on compassionate grounds but was told by the Ministry of Health they were "seeking further information" on May 6.

"We acknowledge receipt of your application and require further evidence from you to support the application. Could you please provide evidence from a doctor of the seriousness of father's condition?" - an email read.

When Ottenhof sought more information from North Shore Hospital staff they declined to provide it.

Instead, she said she was made to feel selfish in her efforts to visit her father.

When the dreaded phone call came that Hart's condition was rapidly deteriorating it sparked a frantic effort for Ottenhof to gain an urgent exemption.

But another phone call came first and it was worse. Hart had already died.

Shortly after his death, his daughter was granted visiting rights.

"In the end, an email came from Wellington to say that I was granted one hour," Ottenhof said.

"They gave me one hour with dad and he had already passed. I wasn't allowed to touch him.

"Of course that caused me great angst. That was Mother's Day, so you can imagine what that felt like."

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She was asked to wash her hands and wear a surgical mask for the visit but no other PPE was required.

After Hart's death, a Zoom meeting was held and hospital staff reiterated visiting policies were strict and they had not expected him to die over the weekend.

Ottenhof told them there was always a chance something catastrophic could happen and that as medical staff they must have known this.

"You deprived me of my last minute with my father," she had told them.

Waitematā DHB deputy CEO Dr Andrew Brant said Hart's condition had deteriorated "unexpectedly" on May 10 and he died soon after.

Brant said Ottenhof had requested a letter on May 7 to support her exemption from quarantine after arriving from Australia.

"Our clinical team considered this but felt it was inappropriate as her father was due for discharge in the coming days and was unlikely to meet the Ministry of Health's criteria for quarantine exemption."

When Hart began to deteriorate staff quickly contacted Hart's partner and arranged for her to visit under the compassionate visiting policy during alert level 3, Brant said.

Staff also rapidly contacted Ottenhof and advised her of the situation so she could approach the Ministry of Health team at the hotel about an urgent exemption, he said.

"Our staff supported this application process by fielding a number of detailed queries from the Ministry of Health to confirm the grounds for exemption," he said.

"In addition, Infection Prevention and Control experts were contacted and plans were made to support Lee-Ann's access to the hospital if and when exemption was granted.

"This involved Lee-Ann needing to wear a surgical mask and observe good hand-hygiene practice in the hospital, consistent with Ministry of Health rules. The same requirements would have applied at any hospital in New Zealand and appropriate processes were followed at all times."

The DHB extended its "deepest condolences" to Ottenhof and her family, he said.

Ottenhof said she knew there was "never going to be a happy ending" but if she had only been allowed the brief visit in time to say goodbye it would have helped her to make peace with the situation.

Before she flew to New Zealand she told her brother she did not believe their dad was going to see his 77th birthday in June.

"And I was right. And I hate that I was right"

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website