August 29, 2008

Norovirus Probe Call Rejected


THE Health Minister has knocked National's calls for an independent investigation into the norovirus outbreaks at Dunedin Hospital as premature.

Hospital management is calling it one of the worst outbreaks in years and National health spokesman Tony Ryall has demanded an independent body investigate.

"This has been the most significant outbreak in recent memory and the public deserves to know what may have contributed to it, and what can be done to better deal with future outbreaks, he said.

"We also need to know if the hospital should have been put into lockdown earlier than was actually done." However, Health Minister David Cunliffe said in an e-mailed response that a ministerial inquiry would be premature.

"My understanding is that Dunedin Hospital are carrying out their own incident review," Mr Cunliffe says. "Until that process is complete it would seem premature to call for a full ministerial inquiry. If Mr Ryall would like to raise issues of wrongdoing or failure by Dunedin Hospital I suggest he does so." Mr Ryall fired back saying he was not out to blame the hospital but wanted to highlight what needed improved so other district health boards could learn from it.

"He's (Mr Cunliffe's) missed the point completely, he's a nitwit," Mr Ryall said. "... an internal review is enough for Dunedin but it's not enough fort he rest of the health system.

"The fact that Mr Cunliffe would not want someone to come in makes me worry he's trying to cover up." The outbreak of the gastrointestinal virus, which causes diarrhoea and vomiting, began three weeks ago. At its peak, up to 170 patients and staff are understood to have been infected forcing a lock-down on elective services and casual visitors.

More than 2300 procedures, outpatient visits and planned admissions were postponed.

Poor hygiene within the hospital and cleaning staff have been criticised as being linked to the outbreak. Dunedin Hospital operations manager Megan Boivin declined to comment about cleaning practices but said "there's lots of theories" behind the outbreak.

"It's probably the biggest one we've been challenged with for a few years," she said.

Ms Boivin said management supported Mr Ryall's comments.

"If the National Party wanted to provide an independent review we are more than happy for them to join our team," she said.


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