Flushed with success from restricting the distribution of Rapid Antigen Tests, the Ministry of Health is considering regulating other 'at home' medical testing devices.
"The household thermometer is an obvious candidate," Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said. "But other devices could include blood pressure kits, oximeters and pregnancy tests." All these devices would benefit from the same Ministry of Health supervision adopted for RATs, he claimed.
"Given the choice, evidence from overseas suggests people would regularly test for Covid at home," Bloomfield said. In the UK, Europe, and Australia, people routinely do this before going to work, visiting elderly or sick relatives, or meeting friends. By restricting the supply of RATs, the Director-General said, the Ministry has avoided the risk of people taking things into their own hands.
Bloomfield acknowledged the Ministry's approach has led to fewer tests being carried out and more infected people circulating in the community. But he said it was more important that the Ministry was able to supervise tests than have them freely available in the hands of untrained consumers.
"The same logic applies to other devices like thermometers. Anyone can make a mistake using a thermometer," Bloomfield said. Ministry guidelines would ensure temperature-taking and similar procedures are supervised by a participating community pharmacy listed on Healthpoint. "This means the Ministry be certain that patients place the thermometer correctly under their tongues or in their armpits, and so on," he said.
To control supply, Bloomfield said the Ministry could ban private importation. But he said the Ministry wouldn't use its requisitioning powers. "Instead, we'll simply make importers give us their stocks."
Anyone wanting to have their temperature taken would be able to queue at Ministry of Health community testing centres, Bloomfield said. They would be triaged and either tested by Ministry staff or given a thermometer to use at home. Patients would still be permitted to ask their GPs to take their temperatures.
The Ministry would also reduce the proliferation of different types of thermometers and other devices in the community. Pointing to Australia, where 26 different RAT tests are available to consumers, Bloomfield said things were "much less confusing for New Zealand consumers," with only 11 brands of tests approved here.
Even that is more than the Ministry would like. Bloomfield said his preference is to have just one Ministry of Health-procured brand for each device. "Just as we have with PCR saliva testing."
Please note this column is satirical.