RATs handling demands inquiry
Ashley Bloomfield’s handling of RATs has caused headaches for groups trying to protect their communities, says John Tamihere.
OPINION: Twelve months ago, Wha¯nau Ora requested the rollout of rapid antigen tests (RATs) for Covid infection, knowing full well that thiswas a screening tool – not a diagnostic one.
In February last year at the 1pm podium of truth press conference, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield went on the record, when asked why he did not rate RATs.
‘‘Of all the different testing modalities, antigen testing seems to be the least reliable,’’ he said, and he was not contemplating using RATs in Aotearoa.
This statement was made at the same time RATs were being deployed by theNational Health Service in the United Kingdom, throughout the United States, in Canada and in some Australian states.
On allmodelling, Wha¯nau Ora knew that RATswere a tool thatwould at least stop panic surges on nasal swabbing tests.
In other words, RATs were a first line of defence. The deployment of them would not have our laboratories overwhelmed.
We could then triage those in greater need, in terms of identifying a slowdown in transmissions.
In September, six months after Bloomfield’s RAT denunciation, 100,000 RATs were bought and later deployed at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital, a hotbed of Covid transmissions during the Delta outbreak.
The RATsworked at Middlemore because it took the pressure off and acted as a first screen on whether visitors or staff were possibly carrying and/or spreading Covid.
Amonth later, 25major companies, led by Mainfreight, ordered 300,000 RATs.
It took fourweeks before theywere allowed to deploy them. Remarkable.
Also in September, saliva testingwas made available for border workers, with the letting of a $60 million contract by Bloomfield to Asia-Pacific Health Tests.
That trial collapsed. Another remarkable story and costly expense.
At the same time, Wha¯nau Ora, in partnership with Rako Science, requested saliva testing for elders, people on blood thinners and peoplewith severe apprehension about buds being jabbed up their noses.
Once again, thiswas denied out of hand. The cost of saliva tests is lower than for nasal swabbing.
The net result of this is that Wha¯nau Ora groups are setting up our own PCR laboratories, and the cost of doing so is cheaper per test by 40 per cent thanwhat Bloomfield and the Ministry of Health are currently paying for their system.
Unbelievably, last Wednesday, almost 12months after Bloomfield’s outright denunciation of RATs, he made the call that RATs are no longer just a screening tool but has determined against all good science that they would now be deployed as a diagnostic tool across the whole of Aotearoa.
Now that is the act of a magician. Remarkable!
Two days later, we learn that a shipment of RATs has just arrived and that supplywill double the capacity the country has.
Why were the RATs not ordered earlier?
As we come to the end of beating Covid, these events must be reviewed andwemust never allow absolute authority to be vested in one person called the director-general of health.
The actions of one super bureaucrat have created headaches on the frontline up and down Aotearoa.
It is this steadfast, stoic and implacable Kiwi workforce that has carried us through to date in spite of poormanagement across the ministry.
❚ John Tamihere (Nga¯ti Porou ki Hauraki, Whakato¯hea) is the chief executive of Te Wha¯nau o Waipareira and ta¯ne vice-president of Te Pa¯tiMa¯ori, the Ma¯ori Party.