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Charter flight to move doctors stranded in Queenstown

Aug 24, 2021

Main Image: Gisborne doctors, consultant respiratory physician Dr Peter Brown, left, and consultant cardiologist Dr Tim Roberts, will fly back to Tairāwhiti on Tuesday morning.

Three health workers stranded in Queenstown will fly home on a "rescue flight" organised by district health boards.

Gisborne doctors, consultant respiratory physician Dr Peter Brown, left, and consultant cardiologist Dr Tim Roberts, will fly back to Tairāwhiti on Tuesday morning. 

Hauora Tairāwhiti DHB and Bay of Plenty DHB will share the cost of flying the three essential workers, including Gisborne's only lung specialist, back to their respective regions.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced that the nationwide level 4 lockdown will remain in place for an extra four days until midnight on Friday.

The government restrictions mean Air New Zealand will not run flights to Queenstown, instead continuing with a reduced schedule to allow cargo and some essential workers to move around the country.

An Air Gisborne plane was to pick up the health workers this morning, returning two to Gisborne and one to Tauranga.

It comes after Gisborne Hospital's consultant respiratory physician Dr Peter Brown and colleague Dr Tim Roberts, a consultant cardiologist, were locked down in a Queenstown hotel after four of their flight bookings were cancelled.

The doctors had a fifth flight booked for Wednesday, pending an alert level change that did not eventuate.

Hauora Tairāwhiti DHB chief executive Jim Green said these staff members were needed on the ground, so they had decided to move on the flight given the uncertainty around the lockdown period and the spread of Covid-19 cases.

"We just thought we can't wait any longer to rely on either forms of transport to try to get them back," he said.

Green said it wasn't like chartering a private flight, because they already had a contract with Air Gisborne to transport patients.

"Obviously they're going out of their way to go down there and pick up these people but we just believe that in terms of ensuring we've got the cover here, we need to get those people back.

"This is just a practical solution to a problem. We've got to be able to provide coverage for people here in Tairāwhiti over the coming days."

Hauora Tairāwhiti DHB chief executive Jim Green says they decided to take action on a flight given the uncertainty around the lockdown period. Photo: Supplied

Green did not have a final figure for how much the flight would cost but said it would be shared with Bay of Plenty DHB.

The cost of the flight would be balanced by the ability to provide services locally, instead of flying patients out to be treated at other DHBs.

"It's about shoring up our roster here and ensuring we've got services on the ground. If we didn't have that then we would have to send people out (of the district)."

That would be an inconvenience for those people and an added cost, Green said.

He told Local Democracy Reporting yesterday morning that Gisborne Hospital had the systems in place to deal with a Covid-19 outbreak, even in the absence of their respiratory specialist Dr Brown.

Green has clarified that was the case for a "short period of time".

"The time is going on and it's putting additional pressure on our staff to provide that cover, so we need to move on that now," Green said.

Green did not know what role the Bay of Plenty staffer held.

Dr Brown said he was not surprised that their flight on Wednesday was cancelled, but grateful to the DHB for "coming to our rescue".

"(I'm) irritated that it will be an added cost to our health services when Air New Zealand should have got it right," he said.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman yesterday said the airline had tried to get everyone home within the timeframe and restrictions set by the government.

The deadline for people to get out of Queenstown and back home due to the lockdown was the end of Friday. That was an extended deadline - travellers from other parts of the country had to make their journey home by the end of Thursday.

Air New Zealand flew 6200 people out of Queenstown during the 72-hour travel period.

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.

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