An Auckland hospital has started putting off elective surgery
after it was swamped with acutely unwell patients causing a
shortage of beds.
The influx at North Shore Hospital is the first sign of
trouble for the region's public hospitals this winter, which
has been marked by a delayed build-up in the number of people
reporting influenza-like illness at community medical
But leading virus expert Associate Professor Lance Jennings,
who uses the internet for flu prediction, warns that despite
a mild start to the flu season, there may be much worse to
"The Google flu tracker suggests nationally we have got
activity approaching one of the higher seasons."
Google produces day-by-day flu activity estimates for New
Zealand and more than 20 other countries, based on rates of
internet searches related to flu or influenza.
A research letter on the internet flu tracker in the
scientific journal Nature, written by officials from Google
and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, says
there is a close correlation between the rates of doctor
visits for flu symptoms, and the use of flu-like search
The New Zealand Government has extended free flu vaccination
for the elderly and others at increased risk of serious flu
complications by one month, until August 31, in anticipation
of a delayed flu season.
Laboratories report that influenza A (H1N1) -- the strain
which caused the pandemic in 2009 and 2010 -- is the main
virus causing flu sickness across the country this year.
A patient with this strain died last week at Middlemore
Hospital's intensive care unit, said Dr David Galler. Two
others in the unit also had the pandemic strain and a third
had a different flu virus. The two women with the pandemic
strain were previously healthy. One is in her 40s and has
been in the ICU for two weeks, and the other is 19 and has
been there for a month.
"It's still a very dangerous disease for people, most
dangerous for those with risk factors, but young people too,"
Dr Galler said. "You can get a devastating illness in
previously healthy people. The message is to get vaccinated.
It's crazy not to."
Dr Galler said the lungs of flu patients could develop an
infection with staphylococcus aureus bacteria. A severe case
of influenza could cause long-term lung damage and patients
"may never be 100 per cent".
West Auckland patient Sharyn Huirama was booked for major
surgery at North Shore Hospital yesterday, but was told by a
booking clerk on Monday that her operation had been delayed
until August 19, because an influx of patients had caused a
The delay was stressful and had thrown her life into
disarray, said Ms Huirama, 45, although hospital staff had
been sensitive and apologetic.
The treasurer of a charitable organisation, she had taken six
weeks off work, which could be re-arranged, and her mother
and aunt had travelled from Hawkes Bay to support her after
She is among 24 North Shore Hospital patients since Monday
last week to have their elective surgery postponed by the
"We've been operating at or near 100 per cent capacity for
the last 10 days," said Waitemata District Health Board chief
executive Dale Bramley.
North Shore and Waitakere hospitals' emergency department
patient numbers were up, and medical admissions were up 20
per cent on this time last year.
"Unfortunately, in situations like this, we have to make
urgent and acute cases our top priority," Dr Bramley said.
Auckland City Hospital said its occupancy had been high,
emergency department attendances were up 5 per cent on last
year, and many staff had been off sick, but it had not
postponed any elective surgery because of the winter
A spokeswoman for Middlemore said its medical wards were
"pretty full" but no elective surgery had been cancelled.
A spokeswoman for Waikato Hospital said it was very busy,
with staff sickness a problem, but it was not at present
cancelling any elective surgery due to influxes of acutely
- By Martin Johnston of the New Zealand Herald