A couple has likened a temporary ward at Tauranga Hospital to "1960s army barracks" and says 25 patients were separated only by curtains.
They were concerned infection could spread easily in the ward, while Tauranga MP Simon Bridges called the arrangement they described "unacceptable".
The hospital made changes to wards last week as it started urgent work to prepare spaces in the hospital - including the 10-bed intensive care unit (ICU) - to treat patients with the Covid-19 Delta variant.
Part of an orthopaedic ward was cleared and a temporary ward - 1D - was created in the former transit lounge. Lounge patients would be housed in the conference centre.
Bay of Plenty Health Board chief executive Pete Chandler acknowledged the "overflow" area was "not ideal" but said it allowed the busy hospital to provide as much care as possible during the conversion work.
He said the changes were "imperative" to prepare for Delta and asked the community to "bear with us", with work expected to be done by Christmas.
The couple, who spoke on the condition they were not named, said hospital staff had been "amazing" in difficult circumstances but the number of people in Ward 1D was concerning.
The wife said her husband, aged in his 70s, spent four days in the ward from October 8, and would need to go back for further tests.
She said during his stay there were 25 patients in the ward with only curtains separating their beds. There were toilets at one end.
Her husband told her that there were up to 50 people in the ward at times, when counting patients, staff and visitors.
She and her husband were double-vaccinated against Covid but had no idea whether others in the ward were too, she said.
"My husband was very unwell. He felt scared and unsafe cross-infection-wise.
"But it's not just Covid. If someone became ill with any type of serious illness or bug such as gastroenteritis in this ward it would be disastrous.
"Why has it taken the district health board 18 months to establish the Covid-19 ward?
"And why should the people of Tauranga with general illnesses have to be treated in a jemmied-up room that looks like a 1960s army barracks?
"This is all about the hospital's duty of care for the people of Tauranga."
Bridges, of National, said he was investigating the couple's concerns and if the ward was configured as they described, it was "unacceptable".
In his view, it was a sign of wider problems, particularly relating to the hospital's ICU capacity and ability to deal with outbreaks of Delta or other serious illnesses.
"The situation was already at a near-crisis situation even before Covid-19 and if there was a major outbreak in Tauranga then 10 ICU beds would not be enough," he said.
Bridges said having to reconfigure hospital wards was "the hidden cost of lack of preparation" over the last couple of years, and feared hospital waiting lists would rise.
Responding to the couple's and Bridges' concerns, Chandler said recommissioning the area of the hospital was necessary to provide the community "optimal protection" from Delta.
Strained by Tauranga's growing population and a "historic lack of investment into hospitals", the board had been planning "major" extensions and upgrades to the hospital - including a new intensive care unit - for months.
After Covid arrived last year, the hospital made preparations and contingencies for pandemic patients in line with other hospitals and national expectations.
But Delta's arrival this year was "like dealing with a new disease". As its higher airborne transmissibility became clearer, the hospital expanded its upgrade plans and had more funding approved.
It was too busy to lose beds in winter - hitting 120 per cent occupancy at times - so the conversion work started this month, with occupancy around 95 per cent.
"We are expecting the works to be completed by Christmas and we would ask our community to bear with us while we work through this."
"We appreciate that the area we are using for overflow is not ideal, but we took the view that it was better to continue to provide as much planned care as we could – even in suboptimal accommodation for a short while – rather than stopping everything or not progressing the Covid works."
He said the board would do its best to make patients' hospital stay as positive as it could and would work through any issues raised.
"Proceeding with these works at a time when our hospitals are so busy is not a decision which is taken lightly, but the lessons from Auckland have been a powerful indicator that the works are imperative.
"I would like to reiterate that work such as this is being undertaken with the protection of our communities from the Delta Variant foremost in our minds."
In a media release on Monday, the DHB said work was beginning on the Ministry of Health's Covid-19 response 'oxygen supply and related environmental systems project' at Tauranga Hospital.
It would repurpose a section of the hospital's orthopaedic ward to provide additional oxygen supply and improved air management for environments in the ward, and areas in the Intensive Care Unit.
This would create areas with high volumes of oxygen and better air management for treating Covid patients.
Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said it was a "very complex" task" to reconfigure any hospital ward, particularly any upgrades to accommodate a large number of seriously ill patients.
Baker said it was difficult for him to comment on the couple's concerns without more details about how the ward was re-purposed and the safety measures in place.
If the couple was still concerned, he encouraged them to take the matter up with the district health board directly, he said.