Dr Ashley Bloomfield to Step Down in July – Described as a True Example of a Public Servant

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Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo: Mark Mitchell/NZ Herald.

Thursday 7 April 2022 Apia Samoa. New Zealand’s Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes announced on Wednesday that Dr. Ashley Bloomfield will be stepping down from his position as Director General of Health in July. Peter Hughes said Bloomfield had signalled to the commissioner late last year he intended to step down before his term officially ended on 11 June 2023.

“Dr Bloomfield has worked tirelessly for more than two years to keep New Zealanders safe from coronavirus,” Hughes said. “Dr Bloomfield has demonstrated remarkable resilience and courage in leading the health system’s overall response to Covid-19. That response has saved lives”.

Prime Minister’s Message

Bloomfield’s dedication to the role throughout the pandemic over the past two years has been commended by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who said of Bloomfield she “cannot imagine someone who is a better example of what being a true public servant is”.

The Prime Minister has posted a touching tribute on social media, showing with glimpses of the close working relationship the Prime Minister had built with her DG over the years of pandemic challenges. 

“There’s not many public servants I have got to know as well as Dr Ashley Bloomfield. In every sense of the word – through his tireless dedication, his focus on people, his calm and considered approach – he has been a true public servant,” says the Prime Minister.

“He has been central to our COVID success as a nation, and he’s done it with humour and grace (I’ll keep the details of his sporadic mockery of me to myself!),” jokes the New Zealand Prime Minister.

“When we spoke about his decision to move on, he mentioned that he wanted to spend time with his family, and that’s the least we owe him. So kia ora from across the Motu, Dr Bloomfield. We thank you.”

Highlight – Protecting Vulnerable Communities

Dr. Bloomfield became a household name following the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, leading New Zealand’s response to the pandemic for the past two years.

In a Covid-19 briefing Wednesday, Bloomfield said some moments were more memorable than others, but hitting such high vaccination rates and being able to protect vulnerable communities had been a highlight.

He said he had been wondering when the best time to step down was, and he believed that time is now, with the system in good hands and moving in the right direction.

“It seems we’re at a good point in terms of the pandemic, the response is shifting, I’m also confident that the system is in good hands with the changes that are afoot, and most certainly my family will be very pleased to have a little more of my time,” said Bloomfield.

He also went on to commend the way the health system and public service worked together in protecting the public’s safety.

“It’s stressful and the pressure’s there, but just to reiterate being the Director-General of Health is actually a pretty big task at any time, the pandemic’s created of course an extra challenge, but I have not been doing it alone.”

Gendered Online Abuse – Need to Do Something About It

In the briefing, Bloomfield was questioned on what the difficulties were being a public figure during the pandemic. He responded saying that the online abuse he received was nothing compared to what his female colleagues were being sent.

“I don’t pay too much attention to the negative commentary and I’m thankful for and don’t expect the positive feedback,” Dr Bloomfield said.

“One observation I would make … is it’s very gendered.”

“Any of that sort of behaviour is terrible in my mind, but the fact it’s so gendered is something we absolutely need to do something about.”

“My key thing is to actually draw attention to the issues as a whole to deter people from doing it.”

Party Responses

National Party leader Christopher Luxon was full of praise and said he wanted “to just say he’s worked incredibly hard, to thank him for his service and I hope he gets a well deserved break and to wish him well for his future”.

“We of course have had issues at different times with the health response, vaccination rollout, rapid antigen tests, but those issues sit with the Prime Minister and the Minister for covid response, not with a public servant.”

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson says she hopes whoever took over the role would show the same level of care for the people and continue to listen to Māori experts and health providers.

“Being one of the coolest Director-Generals to have to be in front of us every day almost for the past two years, I think it’s clear that everyone realised that he genuinely cared, I think people could see that, could sense that when he was in front of us all – day after day – that he genuinely cared about this work and was giving his all.”

An acting director-general will be appointed before Bloomfield finishes on 29 July, 2022.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo: Mark Mitchell/NZ Herald.

Julius Netzler