The face of the government's health response to the covid-19 pandemic, Ashley Bloomfield, has announced his resignation.
The director general of health since June 2018, Bloomfield will leave the post on July 29, about a year before the end of his five-year term of appointment.
He became a household name in 2020 from the daily public briefings that became appointment viewing for the nation during pandemic lockdowns and subsequent developments.
However, as the head of the Ministry of Health, Bloomfield also effectively had the scale and scope of his future role substantially reduced by the government’s decision to reform the public health system, bringing the country’s public hospitals under a single governing body and reducing the ministry to a policy advisory unit only.
In a statement, public service commissioner Peter Hughes said Bloomfield had signalled late last year that he intended to step down before the end of his term.
“Dr Bloomfield has done an outstanding job leading the government’s health response to covid-19 and the vaccination rollout,” said Hughes. He had “demonstrated remarkable resilience and courage in leading the health system’s overall response to covid-19”.
“That response has saved lives.”
Behind the scenes, there have been periods of significant tension between Bloomfield and senior ministers, including the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, particularly over the speed and agility of the ministry’s response capability.
Issues that tested the relationship included the early shortage of protective equipment for health workers, a vaccination rollout that began behind many other countries, and over the latter part of last year, the rollout of rapid antigen testing.
In a memo to ministry staff, Bloomfield, who is in his mid-50s, has said he will take a break before deciding his next career move.