Patient waiting times reducing

Dunedin Hospital's new $2.7 million emergency department (ED) observation unit appears to be making a dent in patient waiting times, but management says it is too early to measure the benefits.

A report to today's Southern District Health Board hospital advisory committee meeting said about six patients a day were admitted to the 10-bed unit, opened at the end of August.

One of the country's poorest-performing EDs for the six-hour target for treatment or transfer, Dunedin Hospital dealt with 86.9% of patients within six hours in September, and 87.9% last month. This was 4% or 5% better than the corresponding period last year.

The better result is unlikely to be entirely because of the unit, because of a wider improvement project under way which includes strengthening links with other parts of the hospital to reduce the need for patients to wait in ED.

In the two months before the unit opened, the ED dealt with 86.2% and 83.9% of patients within six hours.

Managers have given varying estimates of the unit's anticipated benefits, which have been as high as a 10% improvement in the time-target result.

The report to the committee points out that the number of patients attending ED was up 5% on last year.

Protocols for the new unit, to which patients are formally admitted, are still in trial phase.

The unit is designed to care for a range of patients, including those with mild head-injury, intoxicated people, and frail elderly people.

Patient service executive director Lexie O'Shea said while the unit was making a "positive difference", its effect on waiting times would be clearer once measured over a longer period.

Asked for an update on resolving tensions between managers and ED staff, described by the board in September as "long-standing serious relationship problems", Mrs O'Shea preferred not to elaborate.

"We continue to work through issues with ED staff, and are happy that we are making good progress. As before, we are working through this directly with staff and will not discuss it in the media."

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