QT: more details on Covid isolation and border testing

More detail was given yesterday by Minister of Health Chris Hipkins and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Covid testing numbers for people in managed isolation and also border (airport and port) workers.

3. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: How many people in managed isolation have not had day-three tests since the week of 8 June?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): Mr Speaker, I thought the question was a bit longer than that. No—it’s been edited. The vast majority of people want to do the right thing and agree to get tested at day three and at day 12. So far, 20,065 day-three tests have been completed since 8 June. During that same time period, 19,473 day-12 tests have been completed, and there are currently 5,204 people in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ). There are some instances—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I’ve warned members about that interjection which is a reflection on me and my responsibilities. Mr Goldsmith will withdraw and apologise.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: There are some instances where it’s not appropriate to test a person with a swab, such as young babies who are six months or younger. The number of people leaving managed isolation or quarantine without a day-three test has not been collated and reported in that way because before people can leave managed isolation they must return a negative day-12 test. I’m advised that only 15 adults have refused a day-12 test, and that means that they can be required to stay up to 28 days in managed isolation.

Dr Shane Reti: Is he really telling New Zealanders that the Government cannot count the number of people who entered managed isolation and subtract the number who were tested at day three?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, I’m saying that we don’t routinely measure the number of people who haven’t had day-three tests, because it’s not the most important consideration when it comes to our public health response. The key question that people should be asking is: “Are people being released from managed isolation at risk of taking COVID-19 into the community?” Because they get a day-12 negative test before they are released, they are not. With regards to those people who are in managed isolation, everybody who’s in managed isolation is treated as if they have COVID-19.

Dr Shane Reti: Does he agree with reports that thousands of people have not been tested at day three in managed isolation since 8 June?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The numbers simply don’t support that claim.

Dr Shane Reti: How many people in managed isolation have tested positive at day three, and how does that compare to the number who’ve tested positive at day 12?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think the number that the member would be most interested in is that, of the people who have tested—there’s 14 people who have tested positive on the day-12 tests; of those, 12 people had a negative day-three test, only two of them didn’t have a day-three test. Those were people where they had their day-12 test shortly after we had introduced the mandatory requirements around the mandatory testing regime.

Dr Shane Reti: Have the majority of positive coronavirus tests in managed isolation been at day three and not at day 12?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, that would appear to be the case, yes.

Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Can the member describe for the House the purpose of the day-three test from the Government’s perspective and a public health perspective, relative to the purpose of the day-12 test, which is primarily, of course, to ensure public safety?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The day-three test is primarily to ensure the people who have COVID-19 who are in a managed isolation and quarantine facility are getting the support that they need for that. There is very little risk to the public health from a positive day-three test because, as I’ve indicated, everybody who is managed isolation and quarantine is treated as if they have COVID-19, until such time as they get a negative day-12 test before they are released into the community.

Dr Shane Reti: If the majority of positive tests in managed isolation have been at day three, doesn’t that justify the importance of compulsory testing at day three?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The importance of compulsory testing at day 12 is to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t move out into the community. Day-three tests—which as the numbers have indicated, the vast majority of people are doing—help us to better serve the needs of the people who are in MIQ.

Dr Shane Reti: Does the modelling that the director-general used at a recent media stand-up to justify the current policy settings at the border require compulsory day-three testing; and if so, has the Government made serious border decisions on a modelling assumption that now turns out to be wrong?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I’m not sure I follow the question. Can I get the member to repeat the question?

Dr Shane Reti: Does the modelling that the director-general used at a recent media stand-up to justify the current policy settings at the border require compulsory day-three testing; and if so, has the Government made serious border decisions on a modelling assumption that now turns out to be wrong?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, and I do want to remind the member opposite that it was only three weeks ago he was accusing me and the Government of subjecting people to medical procedures in managed isolation and quarantine that they didn’t consent to.

Dr Shane Reti: Will he require testing in managed isolation to be compulsory at day three?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The current requirement is that it’s mandatory at day 12 before somebody is released, and I have no intention of changing that because the public health grounds to do so would not be strong enough.

4. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she agree with Professor Nick Wilson from Otago University, who said, “We must have had some failure at the border, it’s unlikely there could have been silent transmission for that long”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): I agree with him that it is unlikely that there could have been silent transmission for that long, and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) analysis supports that to date. However, that does not necessarily mean there has been a failure at the border. As I said on 15 July, when announcing our resurgence plan: “We only need to look to Victoria, New South Wales, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea to see examples of other places that, like us, had the virus under control at a point in time only to see it emerge again. This does not mean anyone has failed. It means perfection in the response to a virus and a pandemic is just not possible.” There are a number of ways the cluster originating at Americold could have entered New Zealand. To date, we have not established the source of the cluster, but we are working hard to investigate all possible options.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she agree with Professor Des Gorman, who, following the recent revelations that 63 percent of border staff were not routinely tested, said that the community “deserves better than such a casual approach to surveillance to possible infectivity among the border workforce”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member is again trying to imply, without any evidence, that that is the source of the outbreak. I again point to the fact that the vast majority—the vast majority—now of our border staff, our managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) staff, those at ports, have been tested, and to date we have not found the source of this outbreak. [Interruption] And for the member who is pitching in, the ESR evidence demonstrates that the genome sequencing suggests that the source of this outbreak was in very close proximity to the first cases, thus demonstrating that it’s not a matter of there having been, necessarily, a case that was not picked up.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: Further to the member’s answer there, can the member confirm that the—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The Minister—the Prime Minister, in this particular case.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: Sorry. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the genomic sequencing has not formed a link with any case coming out of a manged isolation facility or indeed any other worker at the border—that that link to the B.1.1.1. genomic clade has not been established?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I can confirm that of those tests we’ve been able to run, we have not been able to demonstrate a link between the genome sequencing of this cluster, which is a B.1.1.1. cluster, and those to date, where we’ve had the ability to test, who have come through our MIQ.

Hon Judith Collins: When did her Government ask the Ministry of Health to work through a protocol which prioritises regular testing for staff who are more front-facing and at higher risk, and did the Government ask that the strategy make weekly testing mandatory for front-facing border staff?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, as I’ve referred to in this House on many occasions, we had a testing strategy that was endorsed by Cabinet on 22 June. It included reference to regular asymptomatic surveillance testing, which included, for example, customs, biosecurity, aviation security staff, and front-line staff at ports. Also, I had further, on 6 July, an appendix on the testing strategy in another Cabinet paper, which talked about proactive surveillance testing, including asymptomatic testing, and regular health checks of all border-facing workers—for example, air crew, customs, biosecurity, aviation security staff, and front-line staff at ports. So both on 22 June and 6 July.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she agree with Professor Nick Wilson, who said that “to prevent such outbreaks again, the Government needs to further improve the quality of its border management yet again.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I cannot tell you whether or not the member is quoting from some of the original statements from Nick Wilson, but I note her first quote was actually right at the beginning of the outbreak—so, I believe, somewhere in the order of 13 August or thereabouts. Obviously, an enormous amount of work has been done, sweeping across with surveillance testing of asymptomatic workers at our front line, and has not demonstrated a link between the outbreak at Americold’s site and our border staff. So the member can continue, of course, this line of inquiry, but I would say to the member that no one wants to find the source more than we do. It helps us make sure that we have got all of the periphery of this cluster. But it is not evidence based to imply it has come from one particular origin when we have not defined that as yet.

Hon Grant Robertson: Does the Prime Minister agree with Dr Shane Reti that it would “be almost impossible” to have 100 percent watertightness at the border, and “I don’t think anyone in anyone’s hands anywhere around the world has done that.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Dr Reti is correct because, as I’ve said, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Australia—places that have managed to get their cases down low, although none have managed to do it for as long as we have—have all experienced resurgence. I note Vietnam reached 99 days and has been highly praised for their proactive and rigorous regime. They are yet to determine the source of their outbreak either. We will continue looking, but it is simply not fair to say that this has been illustrative of a particular failure when there is no link to our borders or anywhere else at this stage.

Hon Judith Collins: When she said yesterday, “we’ve asked the Ministry of Health to work through a protocol”—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I know there were two members involved in that conversation, and I can’t quite work out how it’s coming through the sound system, but it is. Can I ask Mr Seymour and Mr Shaw just to be quiet. Thank you.

Hon Judith Collins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. When she said yesterday, “we’ve asked the Ministry of Health to work through a protocol, a matrix, which prioritises more regular testing for those staff who are more front-facing and at higher risk.”, how does that differ from the testing strategy announced nine weeks ago on 23 June, which said the same thing?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Thank you for finally acknowledging that the Government did ask and seek for asymptomatic testing, because that is true, and I have produced countless evidence in the House of that. What I’ve also demonstrated is that when we originally had that working through a voucher system, we could not monitor it adequately. We moved to pop-up sites at the airport on 10 July and 16 July. Then those numbers were not adequate, and we were seeking again to scale up the border testing and had every expectation that our surveillance testing, as contained in the strategy of 22 June, would have been rolled out. We’re now working with Health to get the support of other agencies across airports and ports across the country to make sure we have that ongoing surveillance testing. I would say again, though, to the member, that we still, as yet, do not have evidence that this is where the cluster at Americold, which we have not traced any further back than 31 July, at a cool store facility in Mount Wellington—we have not as yet determined where it came from.

Hon Judith Collins: Has her Government ensured yet that border workers are getting tested weekly?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I identified yesterday, we’ve had a first sweep of staff that has included both those that you would consider at higher risk, because, roughly speaking—280 or so agency staff just at Auckland Airport alone that would be considered higher risk. There are then some that are further back that we would still want to be part of ongoing surveillance. They were part of our two weeks of sweeping through. We’ve started that again. We expect that will happen over the next fortnight again, and then, from there, we’ll have a regime that means those who are more frequently interfacing, potentially, with at-risk individuals will be tested more frequently than those who are not considered at risk but we’d still want to be part of asymptomatic surveillance testing.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she agree that Part 3, clause 18, of the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Maritime Border) Order, which deals with crew of non-departing ships who arrive in New Zealand by air, should be tightened to require mandatory testing of those replacement crews after their arrival in New Zealand?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Those crews are directed to go directly to their ships. If the member wants to stop the ability for imports and exports, that is a matter for her. We have a health order that very carefully manages the safety of our seafarers and our port workers. If anyone is to have any time in New Zealand, they must quarantine. This is an arrangement for those who are departing a departing ship.

Hon Judith Collins: So is the Prime Minister happy for such crew to fly into Auckland Airport and then fly to Wellington Airport to then board a ship without being tested?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The order is very specific about it being crew who are leaving directly, or who are coming into port and then leaving directly to their home country. That is what those orders are designed for. Of course we have regimes in place that mean people should not be having contact, outside of those arrangements, with others.

6. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: When he said he hadn’t read the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Testing Strategy for staff at the border, why had he not read it?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): The Government testing strategy is the strategy decided by Cabinet. The document that the member refers to was prepared before I became the Minister of Health, and informed the Cabinet paper on testing which was considered by Cabinet on Monday 22 June—also before I became the Minister of Health. Cabinet took decisions at that meeting, and at subsequent meetings, that went beyond the initial Ministry of Health strategy, including on the issue of asymptomatic testing. It’s the Government’s approved testing strategy that I have been focused on the implementation of. Though I am a diligent and conscientious reader, I have not read every document the Ministry of Health prepared before I became the Minister.

Dr Shane Reti: Was this an important document for the Minister to read?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think the member, once again, should have listened to the answers before reading pre-scripted supplementary questions. As I indicated, the document was prepared before I became the Minister and informed Cabinet’s approved testing strategy. Of course, as a member of Cabinet, I read that document even before I became the Minister.

Dr Shane Reti: Does he agree with the strategy recommendation that testing of all border-facing staff is not viable?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No. The advice at the time—and bearing in mind that the Government did get advice that there would be some difficulties around implementing that—was that we needed to find ways to get past those difficulties and make sure that that testing strategy was implemented, and that’s what we have done.

Dr Shane Reti: Have all border-facing staff, including staff at managed isolation facilities, been tested for coronavirus, and have they all got their results?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes. In terms of the managed isolation, yes. In terms of those front-facing airport workers that are at higher risk, yes. In terms of the port workers that are at higher risk, yes. Has absolutely everybody who has been at the port, for example, been tested? The vast majority of them have been. There will still be some where they may have moved on, for example, or we may not have been able to get in touch with them. That would be a very small number of people. About 13,000 people in the overall categories that I just mentioned have been tested over the last two weeks, and a second sweep of testing those people is happening again now.

Dr Shane Reti: Will it be compulsory for all border-facing staff, including staff at managed isolation facilities, to be tested weekly?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Not necessarily. The Government is currently doing a second sweep of everybody. By the end of that second sweep we will release a schedule that will set out how frequently people in different roles need to be tested. That will be based on a risk assessment, so that the lowest risk people are tested less frequently and the higher risk people are tested more frequently.

Dr Shane Reti: How infrequently could low-risk people be tested?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Those decisions have not yet been made.

Dr Shane Reti: When he said last week that staff testing failures were reported to him but were not facility-specific, why was the Jet Park, a high-risk quarantine facility, not reported separately?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I reject the first part of the question; that’s not what I said last week.

From Question 4 last Wednesday (19 August):

4. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: Did he receive reports on coronavirus testing of staff at Jet Park Hotel, Auckland; if so, from what date?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): Yes. I’ve had many conversations with officials regarding testing at managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities since becoming Minister of Health. In general, reports and advice were not facility-specific and covered all of the sites. It’s important to note that testing for Jet Park staff has been available since 26 March, when that facility was first stood up. On 22 July, I was advised that rolling testing was being implemented at MIQ facilities, and had commenced at the Jet Park in Auckland and Christchurch on Friday, 10 July. This was the first written report I received specifically describing the testing of Jet Park staff. In addition, as late as 11 August—the day before the current outbreak—my office was advised the programme of testing of asymptomatic MIQ and border workers had been ramped up to commence weekly testing for staff at the quarantine high-risk facilities in Auckland Jet Park and Christchurch, and fortnightly testing for staff working in managed isolation low-risk facilities. Of course, by the time I had the opportunity to read that and ask questions about that, we were already dealing with the current cluster.

Dr Shane Reti: How many reports or updates did he receive indicating incomplete weekly testing of staff at Jet Park from the date he was told they were being tested weekly?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I did not receive a facility by facility breakdown of the testing of staff.

Dr Shane Reti: Given he said yesterday that several weeks ago, the Ministry of Health notified him in writing that all staff at Jet Park were being tested weekly, when did he relay that information to Cabinet, if at all?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The 22 July memo that I was referring to was specifically provided in the context of the Cabinet committee meeting that was happening that morning. They were the talking points that I was given by Health for that meeting.

Dr Shane Reti: When did he relay the information on incomplete weekly testing of all staff at Jet Park to Cabinet, if at all?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think if the member had listened to my last question, it would be very evident that it was on 22 July I reported that to the relevant Cabinet committee.

Dr Shane Reti: Can I confirm that on 22 July, he notified the Cabinet committee that all staff at Jet Park were being tested weekly and that there was incomplete weekly testing?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, I think I have literally just told the member what I told Cabinet on 22 July—that I was advised that rolling testing was being implemented at MIQ facilities and had commenced at the Jet Park in Auckland and Christchurch on Friday, 10 July.

Dr Shane Reti: What is the first date that he received Jet Park – specific testing information?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: It would have been within the last week, in the context of the investigations around this current cluster.

What changed to prompt David Clark’s resignation now?

David Clark offered his resignation as Minister of Health in April, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern because of the Covid-19 pandemic it was necessary to retain him in the role.Clark said yesterday:

You will recall that I offered my resignation during the Level Four lockdown in response to mistakes I made in a personal capacity.

The Prime Minister made it clear at the time – that under normal circumstances – she would have accepted that resignation, but she did not want significant disruption to the health system in the middle of the emergency response.

As recently as last Friday she said Clark would stay on as Minister until the election. Clark had also said he would stay on.

But yesterday Clark resigned. What changed to prompt this?

There have been conflicting claims by Clark and Ardern.

Newshub: PM Jacinda Ardern was pushing David Clark out as Health Minister while publicly saying he’d stay until election

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was pushing David Clark out as Health Minister while publicly saying he would stay on until the September election. 

Dr Clark resigned as Health Minister on Thursday saying he had “made the call that it is best for me to stand aside” because he had become a “distraction”.

“He reached the conclusion his ongoing presence in the health role was causing too much distraction to the Government’s response to COVID-1 – an assessment I agree with,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

My guess is that internal polls indicated that Clark staying on was detrimental to Labour’s re-election chances.

The distractions have been abundant. The lockdown breaches: moving house, the drive to the beach with his family, and that mountain bike ride – prompting Dr Clark’s first resignation offer in April.

“It was bloody obvious to me at that point I felt like a complete dick,” he told The AM Show at the time.

The Prime Minister responded with a threat to Dr Clark’s job.

“Under normal circumstances I would sack the minister,” she said at the time.

With those eight words, the Prime Minister delivered Dr Clark a fate worse than sacking – stripping him of the authority to do his job.

Clark already didn’t seem to be acting authoritatively, and this emphasised that.

After that Clark seemed determined to stay on in the job.

“I am certainly very keen to get on with this,” he told Newshub Nation in June.

The Prime Minister doubled down in Queenstown last Friday when asked if Dr Clark would hold onto his job until the election at least.

“Of course, that is what I’ve continued to say.”

But we now know that around that same time late last week the Prime Minister was edging Dr Clark out.

That would mean that Ardern was deliberately misleading the public.

Newshub asked the Prime Minister if she in any way insinuated or suggested to Dr Clark that she wanted him to offer his resignation.

“No, it was a very open conversation,” she said.

And in that “very open conversation” the Prime Minister gave him the kiss of death – making it clear he was becoming a distraction so close to an election.

Ardern was asked if she had raised with Dr Clark that he was becoming a distraction.

“We had a general discussion around what was needed to put the country first and our COVID response first,” she said.

As for why she didn’t just sack Dr Clark, Ardern said: “My focus has been COVID all the way through – our response to COVID. Those early days, continuity was the most important thing.”

In yesterday’s prepared speech announcing “This morning I have formally tendered my resignation as Minister of Health” Clark defended his performance, praised his performance and electioneered.

The Prime Minister made it clear at the time – that under normal circumstances – she would have accepted that resignation, but she did not want significant disruption to the health system in the middle of the emergency response.

We still have a health emergency, and him resigning is still a significant disruption.

But it has not always been plain sailing and I wish to put on record again that I take full responsibility for the decisions made and taken during my time as Minister of Health.

It’s on the record that he didn’t take full responsibility, and again here he carefully avoids taking direct responsibility – “the decisions made and taken during my time as Minister of Health” implies decisions made by others, there is no personal ownership of his decisions and actions – and just as critical, his lack of decision making and oversight of his ministry.

I’ve always taken the view that the interests of the team must come first, and New Zealand’s COVID response is simply too important, so I have made the call that it is best for me to stand aside.

Now is the right time to hand over the reins, and move forward with new leadership.

The time is now right to hand over to another Minister …

So an already very busy minister and Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins, has taken over as Minister of Health, one of the biggest jobs in Government at any time and especially during a pandemic.

Loading Hipkins with even more responsibilities has been deemed preferable to leaving Clark in the role.

Was Clark that inadequate? Perhaps he was.

But it seems that in saying “the interests of the team must come first” Clark may be referring to the Labour team, not the team of 5 million that Ardern keeps referring to.

It probably makes little difference whether Clark jumped or was dumped, but the explanations from him and Ardern have not been convincing.

Ardern’s ability to make tough decisions regarding poorly performing ministers is also not convincing.


David Clark’s resignation from health portfolio

So David Clark resigned as Minister of Health today after the Prime Minister accepted his resignation this time (Jacinda Ardern declined his offer to resign in April, and said last week he would remain in the job until the election).

A lot has been said about all this, but this is what Clark has said about it:

This morning I have formally tendered my resignation as Minister of Health, which was accepted by the Prime Minister.

Serving as Minister of Health has been an absolute privilege – particularly through these extraordinary last few months.

It’s no secret that Health is a challenging portfolio. I have given it my all.

But it has become increasingly clear to me that my continuation in the role is detracting from the Government’s overall response to the COVID-19 Global Pandemic.

You will recall that I offered my resignation during the Level Four lockdown in response to mistakes I made in a personal capacity.

The Prime Minister made it clear at the time – that under normal circumstances – she would have accepted that resignation, but she did not want significant disruption to the health system in the middle of the emergency response.

I’ve always taken the view that the interests of the team must come first, and New Zealand’s COVID response is simply too important, so I have made the call that it is best for me to stand aside.

We have now shifted to a more stable footing with no evidence of community transmission with the focus shifting to containing the virus at the border, it is appropriate for me to move on.

I could not be more impressed with how New Zealanders and our health system responded to COVID-19.
The response from health workers at the frontline has been astonishing, and I want to take this opportunity to thank all the medical, nursing and allied health staff who put themselves on the line to keep us all safe.

Alongside the sacrifices made by ordinary New Zealanders, your combined efforts have put us in a position that is the envy of the world.

The results do speak for themselves.

In global terms our low hospitalisation and mortality rate is a testament to the strength of our health system and its workers.

Despite more than 80,000 tests in the past two weeks, the only cases we are identifying are at our borders.

That is how the system is supposed to work.

Because it has worked, we are now on a more stable footing. New Zealand’s health system continues to build capacity to keep the virus at bay.

Now is the right time to hand over the reins, and move forward with new leadership.

It has been a privilege to serve in this role and lead the work to rebuild our public health system.

We have made record investments in funding for DHBs, record investments in capital spending to rebuild our run-down hospitals and health facilities.

We’ve made doctors’ visits cheaper for more than half a million Kiwis and free up to the age of 14.
We’ve made historic investments into our mental health services, including sorting out pay for mental health support workers.
We have hired more than 2000 more nurses – and increased their pay.
We’ve established the Cancer Control Agency, Te Aho o te Kahu – quite aside from the day to day challenges in managing the system, these are significant achievements.
It has been a busy but rewarding three years and I leave the role proud of all that we have achieved in that time.
But it has not always been plain sailing and I wish to put on record again that I take full responsibility for the decisions made and taken during my time as Minister of Health.
Although ministers are generally advised against being publicly effusive about public servants, I want to again put on the record that it has been an honour to work alongside an exceptional Director-General in Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Thank you Ashley and your team for the extraordinary work you have done for our country during our most serious health crisis in over a century.
The time is now right to hand over to another Minister to drive forward the changes proposed in the Health and Disability System Review ably led by Heather Simpson.
It is my sincere hope that a re-elected Labour-led Government will drive forward that agenda and that we continue to build a health service that is available and accessible to all New Zealanders, no matter who they are, where they are, or how deep their pocket.
With this decision comes the freedom to spend more time serving as a constituent MP.

I remain committed to the Labour Party, and to my electorate. So come the General Election on September 19 I will again be asking the people of Dunedin for their continued support to serve them as their local MP.

I think I’ll just lave it at that.

Health and Disability reforms

The Government has announced the  final report of the Health and Disability System Review which makes many recommendations for reforming the health and disability systems, but they will need to be considered by Cabinet and there isn’t much time to do this before Parliament pauses and this year’s election campaign begins.

“The Review makes it clear we have a very good health and disability system – as has been shown by the outstanding performance of our health services in response to COVID-19,” Health Minister Dr David Clark said.

“But it also confirms that our health services and workforce are under considerable stress and our system is complex and fragmented.

The Review’s recommendations include:

  • Shifting to a greater focus on population health
  • Creating a new Crown Entity, provisionally called Health NZ, focused on operational delivery of health and disability services and financial performance
  • Reducing the number of DHBs from the current 20 down to 8-12 within five years, and moving to fully appointed Boards
  • Creating a Māori Health Authority to advise on all aspects of Māori Health policy and to monitor and report on the performance of the system with respect to Māori
  • Greater integration between primary and community care and hospital/specialist services

“Cabinet has accepted the case for reform, and the direction of travel outlined in the Review, specifically changes that will reduce fragmentation, strengthen leadership and accountability and improve equity of access and outcomes for all New Zealanders.

“The Prime Minister will lead a group of ministers that will drive the changes. The group will include the Finance Minister, Health Minister and Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare.

Interesting to see that the Prime Minister will “drive the changes”, not the Minister of health, who seemed sidelined during the Covid pandemic lockdown.

.“One immediate priority will be to lock in many of the positive changes made in recent months in response to COVID-19, such as the greater use of virtual consultations and e-prescribing and the renewed national focus on Public Health.

I have experienced virtual consultations and e-prescribing and I think these are no-brainer options along with in-person consultations when necessary or wanted.

“…reforming our health and disability system is a massive undertaking, and will not happen overnight. Meaningful change and improvement will take concerted effort over many years.

“With that in mind, I will be appointing a Ministerial Committee (under Section 11 of the Public Health and Disability Act) to provide ongoing expert advice.

“An implementation team will also be set up to lead the detailed policy and design work. It will be administered by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

It is unlikely this will be operating before the election, so will be dependant on the incoming Government probably in October.

There is quite a bit of typical Clark self praise and political palaver in his announcement. Most of that has been omitted from the above extracts. The full release:  Building a stronger health and disability system

The Health and Disability System Review is available at https://systemreview.health.govt.nz/final-report


David Clark to stay on as Minister of Health but dropped down party list

Minister of Health David Clark was grilled in a The Nation interview in the weekend. Yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that Clark will keep his job as minister – it would be ridiculous at this stage to install a new minister with about a month to go until the election campaign – but the Labour party list was announced, with Clark dropping from 9 to 17.

Newshub: David Clark ‘very keen’ to stay as Health Minister – but voters want him gone

David Clark is “very keen” to stay on as Health Minister should Labour win the upcoming election, despite voters wanting him gone.

In the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll, voters were asked whether Dr Clark should remain Health Minister. More than half – 56.8 percent – said no, with only 35.7 percent saying yes.

Even Labour voters were split – 47.5 percent saying no, 43 percent yes.

That’s a bit of a vote of no confidence from the public.

Dr Clark told Newshub Nation on Saturday the poll was taken “a month ago” and he’s been “working hard to regain the trust of New Zealanders” since his mistakes.

“I will be working very hard in my portfolio because I believe that it’s possible to make a difference in our health system.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in early April she would have sacked Dr Clark if the country wasn’t in the grip of a pandemic.

“Ultimately this decision rests with the Prime Minister,” he told host Tova O’Brien.

Yesterday ODT/Newstalk ZB/NZH: David Clark to stay as Health Minister – Ardern

Ardern also confirmed David Clark would stay in his role as Health Minister, despite saying earlier he would have been sacked for lockdown breaches if the country was not in the middle of dealing with a pandemic.

“I deem it necessary for him to be the Minister of Health,” Ardern said today.

“I stand by the decision I made at that time.

“We have had a very successful response and David Clark has been part of leading that.”

The country was also about to unveil health reforms that he needed to lead.

“If you are asking me if, because we are out of lockdown, I am revising that decision [not to sack him], I am not.”

Later yesterday:  David Clark demoted in Labour list

Dunedin MP David Clark has been demoted down the Labour list, while a University of Otago academic and go to voice as Covid-19 reached its peak is the party’s rising star.

Otago University infectious disease specialist Dr Ayesha Verrall has been giving a prominent spot on Labour’s list.

Verrall has been placed at number 18, which means she is all but certain to be an MP after September’s election.

She is one below Health Minister David Clark in the list, who dropped from ninth ahead of the 2017 election to 17th in the list released today.

I’m not sure if placing Verrall next to Clark on the list is coincidental or some sort of deliberate signal. Even if elected via the list as expected and Labour stay in power it would be very unusual to put a new MP straight into one of the most difficult portfolios.

Labour already have a doctor MP – Dr Liz Craig:

Before entering Parliament Liz was public health doctor, working for over a decade to monitor the health of New Zealand’s children and young people. In that time, she saw how years of chronic under-investment had played out in the lives of many. One in five children were living in poverty, with thousands being hospitalized each year for poverty-related diseases.

Liz is currently a member of the Health Select Committee and the Regulations Review Committee.

But Craig has been placed at just 43 on the new party list. That seems a bit bizarrre.

There’s not much time before the election to reform the health system. That’s something that presumably would take some time – it has taken Clark and the Government nearly three years to not yet announce final plans for rebuilding the Dunedin hospital, despite promising to start the rebuild this term. And they have been slow to address mental health reform despite claiming it needed urgent attention when in Opposition in 2017.

Stuff: Is David Clark up to reforming the health system?

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the health sector was about to go through a period of “much-needed” reform and indicated Health Minister David Clark would be leading the charge.

But is he really the right person to lead such an overhaul?

The Heather Simpson review is reported to include recommendations that will see the number of DHBs slashed and much tighter centralised control.

It is going to require public support, and Clark doesn’t exactly inspire public confidence at the moment.

Clark refused to receive the report when it was completed near the end of March, so the Government was not obliged to consider it. He said he did not want resources diverted from the Covid-19 response. But he created quite a diversion himself when he broke the lockdown rules by driving his family to the beach.

(Ardern) gave him some credit for this, saying he had made “a lot of very good decisions” and was the right person to take the lead role in taking on the review’s recommendations.

But as most people will be aware, the person leading the charge against Covid-19 was not Clark. Health Director-General Dr Ashley Bloomfield was the public face of the response and the one actually in Wellington for lockdown.

He stood up day after day and fielded difficult questions from the media. Where was Clark? Where was the minister in charge?

Giving Clark the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he was making these “very good decisions” in a back room somewhere.

But Clark’s weakness was not just over lockdown. He often manages to mar what should be strong stories for the Government.

On Sunday the Government announced $92.6m of funding into testing labs, pharmacies, midwives, hospices and call centres to further strengthen their readiness for any future outbreak.

Clark, who was late arriving, took a tour of the SCL Covid-testing lab at Wellington Hospital for the announcement.

He did ask some (simple) questions but looked disinterested.

It is understood he initially planned to remain in Dunedin and send out a press release instead. Some members of the media were even told he would do embargoed interviews on the Friday ahead of the PR.

But then came the nod from the powers above that he had to make a show in Wellington.

When it finally came to his moment in the limelight, he read from a script and did a very bad job of going off-script to answer questions. Incompetence was shining through.

He was unable to answer questions in much detail, and he should have been across the issues.

When Stuff asked if the funding was a little too late for some, all he could muster was that funds had already been available for people in difficult situations. No sorry, no explanation.

To top it all off he managed to misquote the budget allocation the funds were coming from. Confidently declaring it had come from their $20 billion unallocated in the budget – only to be quietly corrected afterwards by his staffer, who told media the Finance Minister wanted to make it clear this was not the case.

Clark did not carry himself like a minister on Sunday. He came across as a first-term MP out of his depth.

Clark has always looked out of his depth as a minister of health. Labour my not have had much depth of talent, but Clark seems to have got where he is more through friendships with Ardern and Grant Robertson rather than his abilities and competency.

The only thing he seemed to be interested in was the Highlanders’ win, the first thing he referred to at the start of what should’ve been an important Government message, and turned into a waffling mess.

After this poor performance, can the public have confidence in him to undertake such an enormous task as reforming the health system?

Robertson as the Ministry of Sport for himself.

Clark will make the announcement on the health reforms, but will he remain in the job after the election to actually carry out the reforms?He is standing again, but may even struggle to hold the Dunedin (North) electorate. National’s Michael Woodhouse seems much more competent on health matters for a start.

Hospital assessment report highlights dire problems

A report of an assessment of the condition of hospitals and health systems has been released today.

The National Asset Management Programme for district health boards: Report 1: The current-state assessment

The current state assessment of DHB assets is the first consistent nationwide report on the condition and clinical fitness for purpose of DHB facilities and buildings, with a focus on main hospital campuses and acute care facilities.

The findings are not unexpected given the accumulated under-investment in this area. Over the next decade, DHB infrastructure is expected to require $14 billion in funding.

The more money is needed for growing health needs is not a surprise.

Minister of Health David Clark:  Stocktake of hospital buildings to guide investment

The Government now has the first ever clear and comprehensive picture of the state of New Zealand’s hospital buildings and other assets to help ensure future investment decisions deliver the best health outcomes for New Zealanders.

“Although Governments have known for some time that many of these buildings have serious faults including seismic weakness and weathertightness issues, until now no Government has ever had a comprehensive picture of the state of this vital infrastructure,” says Dr David Clark.

The report, which focuses on older DHB buildings, provides a good foundation for understanding the pressure points.

“It shows site-wide infrastructure is in poorer condition compared to hospital campuses, and many acute care facilities and mental health facilities are below modern design standards.

This was already known. Clark and Labour promised to start building a new hospital in Dunedin in their first term. While demolition has begun on the new hospital site it will be some time before any building begins. The actual new hospital currently isn’t planned to be started for several years (they decided to start on an outpatient block) and the design keeps being downgraded.

Knowing hospital conditions are poor is one thing, dealing with them is another.

Clark’s media release is loaded with self promotion and political point scoring.

RNZ – The state of our hospital facilities: New stocktake paints dire picture

The closest ever look at the country’s hospitals reveals many intensive care units, operating theatres and emergency departments are in “poor or very poor” shape.

“Audits of DHBs found that poor asset management has compromised the quality of long-term plans… The Covid-19 pandemic response also highlighted weaknesses in health sector asset management, notably around the capacity of facilities, sitewide infrastructure, clinical equipment and IT,” the stocktake said.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) admission covers problems with sourcing vital equipment such as ventilators, problems with older negative pressure rooms so poorly designed they compromise infection control, and problems with data systems so old and mismatched they have hampered development of a gold-standard contact tracing system.

‘Poor or very poor’

The stocktake assessed nearly half of the country’s critical care units, focusing on those in 75 older buildings at 31 hospitals, and comparing them to units in five newer blocks.

“As expected, the older units scored from very poor to average, with a poorer range of scores for mental health and intensive care units,” it said.

Out of 32 ICUs, emergency departments and operating theatres, 17 rated as “poor” against nine key measurements of how they were designed.

The South Island’s key operating theatre suites at Christchurch Hospital rated as “very poor”.

Less than a third got an average score, and only 15 percent rated good or very good.

Ward blocks fell far short, too – of 19 looked at, 16 were in poor or very poor shape.

The same went for 15 out of the 24 mental health units assessed – poor or very poor.

To sum up the problems, many of the facilities are too cramped, too dirty – the surface materials such as wood are hard to clean, but also separation of clean and dirty (such as soiled linen) workflows is poor – and too cluttered to keep a safe eye on patients.

At Starship Children Hospital, for instance, its operating theatres are too small and cross infection is a risk.

Six out of 10 intensive care units assessed did not have proper negative pressure rooms – some lacked adequate door seals.

“There appears to be a poor understanding of the [Australasian Guidelines] for negative-pressure rooms, a problem also observed in the intensive care units,” the stocktake said.

Whangārei’s emergency department was only 40 percent as big as it should be.

An upside

The stocktake said the buildings themselves – such as their walls, windows and doors – were mostly in average to good condition.

These ratings, however, were based on self-assessments by the DHBs, which appeared optimistic compared to the independent engineers’ assessments of 166 other buildings, and around which there was greater uncertainty, it said.

However, it showed a long-running lack of asset management by successive health boards, the MOH and governments.

For instance, DHB asset management plans were only introduced in 2009, and long-term plans only from three years ago.

The stocktake showed the 20 DHBs competed on unclear terms for scarce funds, at the same time shelling out money to patch up old gear.

There was a stark example in IT, where a DHBs’ self-assessment was that 90 percent of spending went on trying to keep outdated systems going, like Windows 7.

Fixing it

A 2019 Cabinet office circular demanded DHBs now adhere to better asset management plans.

The stocktake said authorities now had to look at options to improve:

  • Seven mental health units
  • Three emergency departments
  • Five operating theatres suites
  • Five intensive care units
  • Eight inpatient wards

The report said another $2.3b was needed to upgrade hospitals’ “ageing” and “slow” IT systems that frequently failed.

There was danger in rushing the upgrades, with research showing hurried planning of new health facilities “risks poorer long-term outcome”, the stocktake said.

Here is the Executive Summary from report:

As noted in the Health and Disability System Review interim report (2019, p 263), ‘The current state of DHB assets is not good and there is little in the way of long-term planning which can give any confidence that the problem is under control.’ Resources have tended to be directed to managing short-term operational pressures, rather than to plan for and invest in longer-term sustainable solutions, including infrastructure.

And it is not just a matter of remediating the accumulated investment deficit; we need to build the capability to support system transformation, especially as models of care evolve, including the advances in clinical equipment and technology that enable shorter hospital stays and more community-based care. In addition, a growing and ageing population will continue to see increased demand for both hospital and community services.

What did the work find?

The results of the current-state assessment (the review) carried out as part of the NAMP are outlined below in respect of buildings and infrastructure, older clinical facilities and IT. Several factors contributed to the results, including:

  • health sector weakness in asset management
  • the prioritisation of expenditure on operational rather than capital requirements, which has led to a significant backlog of deferred maintenance
  • the demands of rapidly changing health technologies
  • the inability of DHBs to adapt quickly enough to changing demands

Full report:

Click to access national-asset-management-programme-district-health-boards-report-current-state-assessment9june2020.pdf


David Clark’s ‘full disclosure’ questioned after house move revealed

Minister of Health David Clark emerged from lockdown in Dunedin to attend Parliament yesterday, but his lockdown laxness has flared up again.

Earlier in April Clark was demoted to the bottom of the Cabinet ranks and stripped of the Associate Finance portfolio after it was revealed that he was abusing the spirit if not the rules of the lockdown that he must have played a part in defining.

First he was found to have driven his van to a mountain bike track, and it then took Clark days to front up and admit he had also taken his family to the beach.

But he didn’t say anything about moving house.

1 News: Health Minister David Clark confident he didn’t break Alert Level 4 lockdown for third time despite moving between homes

Dr Clark was seen repeatedly moving boxes between the two properties during the Alert Level 4 lockdown. The properties are believed to only be a few hundred metres apart.

“I moved house, using the services of a moving company, on the Wednesday immediately before the Level Four lockdown began. My new house is just up the road from my old one,” Dr Clark told 1 NEWS.

“During lockdown I used my old house as my office and occasionally walked the odd item or box back with me, as is within the rules.”

Dr Clark’s office has confirmed he was working at times during lockdown from his old house, which he still owns and said it provided a quieter work environment.

The story seems to have changed a bit. A Kiwiblog post quotes a NZ Herald article that quotes 1 News:

Clark was spotted repeatedly between two Dunedin properties during the month-long lockdown period.

He and his family are believed to have recently moved into a new home before the country went into level 4, with the minister seen moving large furniture and appliances as the country went into the mandatory nationwide restrictions, 1 NEWS reported.

So both the Herald and 1 News seem to have altered their stories online, but

Working from home was supposed to be working from home, but perhaps more damaging for Clark is his lack of full disclosure in a Statement from David Clark made on 7 April that stated:

Last night as part of my preparation for the Epidemic Response Committee, I provided the Prime Minister with a complete picture of my activity outside my home during Alert Level 4.

That included the fact that on the first weekend of the Alert Level 4 lockdown I drove my family approximately 20 kilometres from our house in Dunedin to Doctor’s Point Beach for a walk.

In the interest of full disclosure, since the lockdown began I have also driven my family to a walking track approximately 2 kilometres from our house for a walk and gone for occasional runs, all of which were local and within the rules, and one bike ride which is already in the public domain.

I don’t know whether Ardern was provided with ‘a complete picture’ then, but Clark seems to have not provided full disclosure in his public statement.

All Ardern disclosed in Statement from the Prime Minister on Dr David Clark was:

“Yesterday evening the Health Minister advised me of his trip to a beach during the lockdown and offered his resignation,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Under normal conditions I would sack the Minister of Health. What he did was wrong, and there are no excuses.”

Again what Clark did may seem relatively trivial, but what he stated looks to have been misleading – and may have misled the Prime Minister, unless Ardern mislead the public.

Newshub has a bit more:  Prime Minister told David Clark’s house move took place prior to lockdown

Dr Clark’s new house was just down the road from where he used to live, and though most of the moving – including shifting his family and hiring a moving truck for heavy furniture – took place before the country went into lockdown, Dr Clark continued to move some boxes after the alert level was raised.

The Health Minister’s office told Newshub he was using the old place as an office, so he would shift some things when he returned home.

That seems minor, but it still seems outside the rules.

Richard Harman at Politik: The Minister’s new house: up the road and into trouble

Then came a statement from a spokesperson for the Prime Minister:”A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said based on what the Health Minister has advised her he moved house prior to lockdown, and based on his description of events, had not breached the rules of lockdown.”

The repeated “based on what the Health Minister advised her” and “based on his description of events” would seem to suggest the Prime Minister is not entirely convinced that what he said happened is exactly what did happen. But then, he has form.

He has form for not fully disclosing already. He could have an awkward day in Parliament.

$3 billion small and medium business relief package announced

The Government has just announced a “tax loss carry-back scheme” package for small and medium sized businesses amounting to over three billion dollars.

Government backs business through COVID-19

The Government has announced a suite of new measures to provide relief for small and medium-sized businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson says while the Government has already acted swiftly in response to the crisis, with about $20 billion in support already announced, it recognises that more is needed.

The new measures include:

  • $3.1 billion tax loss carry-back scheme (estimated cost over the next two years)
  • $60 million estimated annual savings to business each year from changes to the tax loss continuity rules
  • $25 million in the next 12 months for further business consultancy support
  • Greater flexibility for affected businesses affected to meet their tax obligations
  • Measures to support commercial tenants and landlords

“We have taken decisive action throughout this pandemic to cushion the blow for our businesses and workers – today’s announcement continues that focus. We need our businesses to stay solvent to help with the economic recovery as we emerge from this health crisis.

“Our focus on cashflow and confidence continues through these measures. We have approved a tax loss carry-back scheme that will allow a large number of businesses to access their previous tax payments as cash refunds. Essentially this means a forecast loss in the current financial year can be offset against the tax paid on a profit from last year.”

We are also changing the tax loss continuity rules to make it easier for firms to raise new capital without losing the benefit of their existing tax losses” Grant Robertson said

Minister for Small Business Hon Stuart Nash says some businesses are struggling to meet their non-wage fixed costs, like interest, rent and insurance, but are not currently in a position to take on additional debt.

“In the absence of further support from the Government, these otherwise viable SMEs may be forced to close down permanently.

“We don’t want that to happen, so as well as the tax measures which should provide some cashflow relief, we are going to provide tailored support services to help businesses weather the storm, at no charge to the business.

“Using established services including the Regional Business Partner Network and the helplines run by the Employers and Manufacturers Association and Canterbury Chamber of Commerce, we can get specialist, tailored advice where it is needed, fast. This could range from human resources advice to business continuity planning to financial management – because every one of these small businesses will have a different need,” Stuart Nash said.

New measures are also being announced to support stability in commercial property transactions, extending the timeframes required before landlords can cancel leases and mortgagees can exercise their rights to sale or repossession.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says many businesses may be finding it difficult or impossible to pay rent if they are no longer able to access their property, and if landlords are not receiving rent, they may not be able to meet their mortgage obligations.

“As a result, the Government will extend the current 10 working day timeframe that commercial landlords may cancel the lease to 30 working days. This will be for both the period the tenant is in arrears before the notice is given, and for the period to remedy the breach.

“The Government will also extend the timeframes for lenders from 20 to 40 working days for mortgaged land, and from 10 to 20 working days for mortgaged goods. This will apply to commercial mortgages and home loans. However, the already announced mortgage deferrals are likely to be the first port of call for residential borrowers.

“These measures will ensure an orderly process to deal with commercial lease disputes caused by COVID-19,” Andrew Little said.

Legislation enacting the changes announced today will be introduced on April 27 and will apply effectively retrospectively once the bill is passed.

Work is also underway on further support for businesses and households as the impacts of COVID 19 become clearer.

Summary of the David Clark bike ride

The Minister of Health David Clark was in the news for going for a mountain bike ride between conference calls on Friday. See: Minister of Health Clark drove to bike park for a ride under lockdown

Here’s a summary of what I have seen about this.

Yes, it actually is permitted to (say) drive five minutes to a local mountain bike park where there are few other riders, and then ride up and down a gentle, well-groomed trail at a reasonable speed. It may not be politick or wise to do so if you are the Minister of Health, but for the rest of us “the rules” do allow for it.

  • But it was against the repeated advice of the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and both she and Grant Robertson (“We don’t want the minister of health out mountain biking” said Clark had apologised, and they both said he shouldn’t have gone for the bike ride as it was too risky.

Robertson: “I certainly think it’s important for the minister of health not to put himself in any risk … We don’t want the minister of health out mountain biking.”

Ardern: “What we need people to do is stay local and also stay away from risk. And that’s really important because ultimately we don’t want our emergency services or other people having to come to your rescue., and that’s why that’s so important right now.”

  • Clark and others have played down the mountain biking by saying ‘The Big Easy’ was a relatively low risk mountain bike trail. But it is on the side of a hill, and Clark was not “available to front anytime” as Robertson claimed.

““He’s available to front anytime … He has a young family, and we all have to understand at this time we’re operating in a very different world. He’s involved in every single cabinet and cabinet committee meeting.”

  • Demands for the Minister to resign or be sacked were little more than the usual knee jerk automatic response from political opponents and appeasing radio stirrers.
  • Criticism of Clark wasn’t confined to those from the right. See David Clark at The Standard:

But what kind of message is being sent when one of the government’s own upper middle class twats imagines it’s fine to do what David Clark did? Do lock down rules only apply to people without four wheel drives and the ability to go for a day out?

If David Clark can get away with a simple “sorry”, then why the fuck would anyone else feel the rules around lock-down are to be taken seriously?

I mean, is this lock-down serious? If so, the government needs to demonstrate how seriously it is and jettison David Clark.

The Government has acknowledged the error (bad PR and politics at least) but otherwise not demonstrated much seriousness, certainly not Ardern in this interview:

Ardern interview – lockdown, eradication, data, duration, business on hold 

This will,probably blow over now with Clark still in his job as Minister of Health, working from home in Dunedin. In a Government where optics are carefully managed as much as possible sacking a supposedly key Minister in the middle of a health crisis would be ‘bad optics’.

But it has highlighted two things.

This is the biggest health issue New Zealand has faced in a century and one of the biggest situations faced by a Minister of Health, but Clark is working from home a long way from the epicentre of the handling of the crisis, Wellington.

Why is Clark absent (in person from the main decision making loop? See Dominant Ministry of Health, weak Minister – and weak Government

Also, a comment from The Standard:

I’d rather Clark spent his time really asking his ministry hard questions about the policy they are demanding the country follow. The Minister is after all the meeting point between that Ministry’s policy and the rest of the interests of the the country. The Health ministry is rightly concerned with Health, but not the overall health of the country as it were. So they’ll just do what they do and with no questions asked how are we to know what the best policy is?

Right now they seem to be ruling the roost and Clark isn’t really visible enough, imo.

If he’s got to go it should be for that reason, not the bike ride. His performance reminds me a bit of Justin Lester’s and we all know what happened to him…

Muttonbird had been defending Clark’s bike ride at The Standard a day earlier.

And maui:

So arguably the second most important person in the country is in lockdown seperated from all the other key people. Great…

I pointed that out in a prior thread at The Standard and was criticised for it.

stunned mullet:

Minister Clark has completely abrogated responsibility to Ashley and the ministry who are now running the show.

And possibly related to that, the general competence of Clark as Minister of Health has been highlighted – quite a lot in fact at the normally defensive of Labour The Standard.

stunned mullet:

On his performance as a Minister as Health he (or the Ministry under his time) has been poor.

  • The meningitis vaccine fiasco in Northland
  • The decrease in vaccination coverage
  • The removal of a number of measures to track DHB performance
  • Running out of flu vaccine last year and what looks like a supply chain rupture this year

and there are no doubt additional examples..

If this was one incident in isolation where we weren’t advising the general public to isolate and not needlessly drive away from one’s locale then no issue but he is the Minister of Health and it is not reasonable behaviour from the Minister of Health at the current time.


As for making mistakes- sure we all human.

I’m just not seeing him do anything of great worth, all I’m hearing is small towns struggling with keeping doctors clinics open, the same amount of homeless sleeping in cars, and I have other concerns about planning and communication from the MoH. And lets leave aside the complete and utter mess around support for disabled, that clark and co (MoH) have once again forced on disabled people and their families. Mistakes I’ll accept a few,  but as you said, what they do after what counts.

The last word is from Corey Humm:

But I’m labour through and through, still , this guys a plonker if the nats did this wed we up in arms about this, but labour supporters are acting like football supporters,Fafoi is useless and Clark has “flouted” the rules, time to go! After the crisis of course, right now  yeah would be crazy, he’s dog Tucker though,I really  hope the pm uses  the time after lockdown to get rid of her entire front bench bar Robertson and little before the election, a new young team, the incumbents are a bunch of hopeless automotons being carried by the PM,  political non entities who not only do the public not know who they are, the ministers themselves couldn’t tell you who they were they have no identity,the front bench of labour shows exactly why we were out of office for 9 years, it’s infuriating as there is so much talent in the 2017 class of labour it’s sad that they won’t get any leadership roles until we’re in opposition. Which will be another nine years out of office because of the power vacuume the pm will leave

Imagine what this pm could achieve with competent ministers.

It’s notable enough that comments like this are coming from The Standard, but at least as notable is the fact that they are barely criticised or challenged, and no one has supported Clark’s performance as Minister of Health, nor defended him.

The problems are twofold – the bad optics of replacing a key Minister in the middle of an unprecedented crisis, and also (and possibly more critical), who would replace him? Clark is also an ordained minister with little background in the health field prior to taking this job on. He is a symptom of a lack of experience and talent in the incoming Labour crop of MPs in 2017.

Someone like Liz Craig looks well qualified based on her health background, but she was a new MP in 2017 and the first term would be a huge challenge for one of the most difficult portfolios.

It seems likely that Ardern and Robertson will have to keep covering for Clark for the rest of this term – and unfortunately, probably the worst of the Covid-19 virus.

If Labour retain power after the September election Clark will probably be moved to less demanding roles. While he simply doesn’t seem to be up to the job few people can manage the Health portfolio without difficulties.


Minister of Health Clark drove to bike park for a ride under lockdown

Minister of Health David Clark took some time out from his busy schedule on Thursday to drive to a bike park in Dunedin to ride an easy trail. His van was the only vehicle in the car park the park is accessed from so social distancing was probably way enough (some people may have rode their bikes to the park to use it).

Clark’s prominently painted van was photographed at the park, and he admitted going for a ride between conference calls (he is currently working from home).

Lockdown rules about recreation are a bit vague but this is setting a bad example by a Minister prominent in Governnment making stringent rules for the public.

Stuff: Health Minister drives to local park to ride his mountain bike, amid coronavirus lockdown

Clark, who earlier on Thursday told Stuff the coronavirus response was his “singular focus”, said he didn’t “want to give anyone the perception” that he was taking the lockdown lightly, after his van was photographed at Logan Park — a 2.3km distance from his home.

Clark, in a statement responding to queries from Stuff, confirmed he went for a bike ride between video conference meetings on Thursday afternoon.

“As health minister I try to model healthy behaviour … This was my only chance to get out for some exercise in daylight hours,” the statement read.

Clark said he drove to a mountain bike trail called “The Big Easy”. The trail, according to the Mountain Biking Otago club website, is an “easy” rated trail that is 6km long.

“The track itself is not challenging, and is widely used by families and foot-traffic. I know that now is not the time for people to be engaging in higher-risk exercise activities,” he said.

“I don’t want to give anyone the perception that I take these matters lightly. This is a reminder to me to think carefully about how best to fit some exercise into my new-normal routine.”

Is this a big deal? There have been calls (from political opponents mainly as far as I have seen) for Clark to be sacked as minister for flouting the lockdown rules.

If this had been a general member of public it might have been criticised, but if the police became involved they would probably have ‘educated’ the driver/rider.

But is this a case of a Minister setting a bad example (now he has been outed)?

The rules over what we can do in the level 4 lockdown are a bit vague. We have been told we can go out for exercise in the vicinity of our homes but not to drive across town. We have also been told to avoid doing things that may end up requiring emergency help.

Clark is inferring that doing an easy bike trail at least reduced the risks.

A Nelson emergency department doctor, Tom Jerram, on Thursday said people should not mountain bike, even on easy trails, during the lockdown as they may injure themselves and take up hospital resources.

“We may not have the hospital capacity to treat you and we want to reserve all our capacity for fighting this illness,” Jerram said.

He lives in the vicinity so could have ridden his bike to park (and would probably not have been noticed), and that would arguably have been more risk (hill route but with low traffic).

But does look a bit hapless from a Minister that appears to be struggling with the huge responsibilities he has. And it’s a bit embarrassing for the Government.

It does have the appearance of one rule (or guidelines) for the public but politicians can do as they please.

Clark, earlier on Thursday, said he had declined to receive a highly anticipated review of the health system due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“My singular focus is on the health response to Covid-19,” he said.

Except when he takes a bit of time out. A daytime excursion does seem a major misjudgement for Clark.

Another problem with this is that members of the general public may see this as a signal that they can push the boundaries of the lockdown.

I don’t know if this should be a sackable offence (I’m reluctant to jump on ‘sack him’ type bandwagons).

It is a very bad time to be bringing in a new Minister of Health – unless the prime Minister wants an excuse to put someone more competent in one of the most important roles in Government in the most challenging of circumstances.

This doesn’t help: Message from Cycling New Zealand around riding in public – keeping everyone healthy and safe 

this pandemic is bigger than sport and bigger than cycling and so whatever you choose to do, please know that Cycling New Zealand absolutely stand by following the Ministry of Health Guidelines found here at  https://covid19.govt.nz

Their guidelines are updated regularly and will provide you with the most correct and relevant information around what you can do to keep physically active whilst keeping you and your loved ones safe and healthy.

Alert Level 4 means we must severely limit travel, with driving only permitted for essential travel such as getting food or medicine from your local area. The best way to reduce the risk of exposure to yourself and others is to stay at home.   However, we do realise that people will want to get out and exercise.

If you do go out, please limit yourself to short walks or rides, following the government’s recommended hygiene guidelines.  Here are some tips to help you protect yourself and others in the current environment

  • If you can, ride indoors on a trainer or exercycle
  • If outdoors, ride solo or in your family bubble.
  • Ride from home.  Don’t drive and then ride.
  • Ride short and local so that you do not increase the pressure on the emergency services if something goes wrong. This means no long-distance or epic rides away from your region or extreme riding.
  • Ride sensibly and safely to avoid accidents and putting unnecessary pressure on medical services or expose yourself to the heightened risk of infection

Nothing in the ODT yet about Clark, but they have these two articles:

Dunedin residents enjoyed a balmy evening yesterday with a walk on St Clair Beach.

Tougher measures may be needed to deal with those breaching lockdown rules, Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult says, after people were caught jumping off Albert Town Bridge yesterday.