Home care workers and other healthcare professionals have been crying out for access to protective gear – but the Ministry of Health boss says there are plenty in reserve.

New guidelines for the use of protective personal equipment during the coronavirus epidemic are being put in place, amid complaints from healthcare workers about a lack of access.

Newsroom has reported on the plight of home care workers helping the elderly and disabled without any protective clothing, despite pleas to their district health boards (DHBs) and the Ministry of Health.

On Friday morning, RNZ also reported about concerns regarding the supply of protective gowns and other medical gear for those on the frontlines of the response.

Speaking to media at a Covid-19 briefing on Friday, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said there were 1.9 million PPE aprons and gowns in the Ministry of Health and DHB reserves, as well as 2.7 million pairs of gloves and 60,000 sets of protective eyewear.

In addition, there were 18 million masks in the ministry’s reserves – half of which were surgical masks, and half of which were the higher-specification N95 respirators.

“All stones are being turned over to make sure we keep our stocks at the levels that will be needed to protect our health care workforce and essential workers,” Bloomfield said.

New guidelines on prioritising PPE, released by the ministry on Friday, set out the high-priority, medium-priority, and low-priority workers in terms of access.

The high-priority category includes GPs and community-based centres taking swabs for suspected Covid-19 cases, as well as healthcare professionals in hospital taking samples from a suspected case, and professionals (including midwives) providing clinical care for a confirmed or suspected case.

Separate PPE guidelines have also been released for community and home care providers, as well as for staff caring for confirmed Covid-19 patients in a hospital.

News of the guidelines came as Bloomfield confirmed there were 85 new confirmed or probable cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand – bringing the overall total up to 368.

A total of 37 people had recovered – defined as having been symptom-free for 14 days – while there were eight people in hospital.

Two of those were “in a less stable condition”, Bloomfield said, including one patient on a ventilator in intensive care.

A call for retired or non-practising health professionals to support the Covid-19 work had received a fantastic response, Bloomfield said, with over 2500 people already registering through the ministry.

Bloomfield said officials expected the number of Covid-19 cases to grow despite the Government’s new lockdown measures, adding it could take between seven and 10 days for the infection rate to turn around.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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