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Hospital managers cannot single out one factor behind the high number of patients visiting the emergency department, although Dunedin was busy with events and students were returning to the city for the start of the academic year.
"However, these populations do not seem to be directly leading to an increase in presentations," department charge nurse manager Janet Andrews said.
"Rather, we are seeing high numbers of people from across our community experiencing medical emergencies.
"The emergency department has been consistently busy recently, and we are working hard to ensure our patients are seen as soon as possible."
On Thursday, patients were waiting more than three hours to be seen, and staff were using the resuscitation area and corridors as impromptu consulting rooms.
At one point, five beds with people waiting to be taken into a cubicle were just inside the ambulance bay entrance. Ms Andrews said emergency staff were doing their best to avoid patients waiting too long.
"We have increased our medical and nursing staff during this time and ensure that patients are triaged by senior staff ... to help start patient care and treatment as soon as possible," she said.
"This means that when they are assessed further, we have more information available to us, and can ensure they receive the treatment they need as soon as possible."
Patients were mostly acutely unwell and were in the right place, but the emergency department should be saved for emergencies, Ms Andrews said.