Joan Northcott went without clean sheets or vacuumed floors for almost three months over the peak of the Covid-19 crisis.

Luckily, the 80-year-old had meals in the freezer, but often turned to just a bit of toast for dinner.

"It was awful, absolutely dreadful. I hadn't had my sheets changed, the place hadn't been vacuumed, the shower, basin and toilet hadn't been cleaned and the floor needed washing because I'm fairly shaky on it and tend to spill things.

"It was really, really hard."

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Northcott has a bad back and has a walker to get around her Ngatea home in the Waikato. It's painful to lift up her arms so her home support worker comes once a week to help with cooking and cleaning.

But over lockdown, the pensioner was on her own. Her daughters were not allowed to visit out of fear they would infect her with the deadly virus.

Joan Northcott went without clean sheets or vacuumed floors for almost three months. Photo / Supplied
Joan Northcott went without clean sheets or vacuumed floors for almost three months. Photo / Supplied

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said many others would have also had to go without help because the sector wasn't given enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) so some workers had to stop home visits during lockdown.

Tesoriero said even before alert level 4, community workers struggled to access PPE to visit people often with high-needs and vulnerabilities.

"In the early days there was a lot of confusion and a lot of fear about how things go and the unclear information about the guidance really did make people who were already feeling vulnerable even more scared.

"I think that created a lot of risks about wellbeing and put the wellbeing of some disabled people at risk."

This week's Auditor General's report into the management of PPE and the national reserve highlighted issues the disability sector already knew, Tesoriero said.

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It found the Ministry of Health didn't factor into its demand modelling the needs of frontline healthcare workers outside of hospitals.

And community-based health and disability providers struggled to get PPE because at the start of the crisis district health boards did not "uniformly understand" they were responsible for distributing it to them.

On March 31, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said staff needed to "feel safe as well as be safe", that the ministry had instructed DHBs to provide PPE to the wider health and disability sector and masks would be released from the national reserve.

The Auditor General's report said this led to "mixed messages", confusion and a rush on demand despite the clinical guidelines having a narrower scope of when PPE should be worn.

Other holes identified were that as there'd not been a stocktake of PPE since 2016, the Ministry and DHBs didn't know how much had expired or how much was needed.

Among its recommendations was that emergency plans were kept up to date and tested regularly, that demand forecasting is updated as clinical guidelines are changed, how healthcare workers outside of hospitals are catered for, a centralised system for the national reserve with periodic stock takes and more detailed distribution plans.

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Tesoriero said she welcomed the report and hoped the recommendations would be reviewed urgently and implemented as quickly as possible with consultation from the disability sector.

Bloomfield, who also welcomed the report, said a team was looking at the recommendations "right now" to map out a response to each one. Much of the work was under way as the ministry had been given an early draft of the report.

Bloomfield said during the crisis each time an issue was raised about PPE, like expired stock or distribution, it was acknowledged.

"At no point in time did we not have available stock and then put in place a process to get that out to people as quickly as we could."