The Ministry of Health has acknowledged the ongoing work of the New Zealand health system in responding to the Whakaari – White Island disaster.

Whakaari – White Island erupted on December 9, with the number of confirmed deaths now 17. A further two people remain unaccounted for.

“This tragedy touched all New Zealanders, and also of course affected overseas visitors we had welcomed to our shores,” says Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. “It also represented a significant challenge for the New Zealand health system, and there’s been a huge amount of work going on in response.

“A month on from the eruption, there remain 13 people being cared for at four hospitals around New Zealand – Middlemore, Hutt Valley, Waikato, and Christchurch. Four of these patients remain critically ill. Our thoughts are with them and their families, as well as those people who lost loved ones, and other victims who’re continuing to recover, but who have a lot of hard work still ahead.

“I want to acknowledge and thank everyone in the health sector who has and is continuing to contribute to the best possible outcomes for people injured.

“From the first responders and hospital staff at Whakatane who were in action within minutes of the explosion, to burns unit and hospital staff around New Zealand, so many people have played a part.

“Just recently, six Australian nurses and one Kiwi nurse arrived at Whakatane Hospital. These nurses had, at short notice and over Christmas – New Year, volunteered to support their colleagues in whatever way they could. Their assistance meant some staff members caught up in the original event had been able to get some much-needed rest and support over the holiday period.

“There’s a similar story from Middlemore, where Australian and a Canadian burns surgeon have been working with the local team to help treat the eight patients being cared for there.

“Whakaari – White Island placed sustained pressure on our health system and it’s important to recognise the cooperation which has helped make specialist burns care available for these patients. District Health Boards, particularly in the greater Auckland area, have also been working closely together to ensure other patients can get acute and urgent surgeries.

“The Ministry also wants to acknowledge international assistance received, particularly from Australia, but also the UK, Canada and the United States. Everyone has been working towards the best outcomes, and of course New Zealand is now part of international efforts to assist Australia as it copes with the impact of its devastating bushfires.

“Four weeks on, it’s very good news that so many Whakaari – White Island burns patients are continuing to improve and that the system is coping so well. There continue to be challenges but its important to acknowledge the superb efforts of many people across the NZ health system to date.”

The current breakdown of patient numbers across New Zealand hospitals is: 

  • 8 patients being treated at Middlemore Hospital 
  • 2 patients being treated at Waikato Hospital 
  • 2 patients being treated at Hutt Valley Hospital 
  • 1 patient being treated at Christchurch Hospital