'Throng' waits as ED staff struggle

Dunedin woman Sally Hume has expressed concern about understaffing in Dunedin Hospital's emergency department. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Dunedin woman Sally Hume has expressed concern about understaffing in Dunedin Hospital's emergency department. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
''Injured and maimed'' patients waited among a ''throng'' of others in a short-staffed and struggling Dunedin Hospital emergency department last Friday night, a Dunedin woman says.

Sally Hume (63) wrote a letter to the Otago Daily Times about what she saw in the department.

''I joined the patient throng of patients in beds, four to five deep on one side of the corridor, two to three deep on the other; then there were the injured and maimed sitting in chairs in the same corridor.

''Nurses had to squeeze sideways past our beds to get to the supply cupboard. One nurse was heard to say 'I'm shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic'.

''When I got to the actual ED area, [I received] the best of care, [but] I was puzzled by the minimal staffing.

''It seemed that all staff had to be Jack of all trades. These conditions are absolutely unacceptable,'' Ms Hume's letter stated.

It follows news this week the department has lost its clinical leader, and has had its training accreditation downgraded. Acting clinical leader Dr John Chambers said this week the department was dealing with up to 160 presentations per day, and patients were waiting too long.

Ms Hume, who needs cardiac surgery, said her heart condition was urgent and she was dealt with in a satisfactory timeframe.

But she was shocked by what she saw, and felt she had to speak out.

''It's no use gossiping about it to people around the place if you're not prepared to stand up and say something.

''I'd prefer if I could do something. I'd quite like to get in there and help them with pushing beds around, but I can't at the moment,'' Ms Hume said when contacted for further comment.

Chief medical officer Dr Nigel Millar said in a statement Dunedin Hospital was under pressure because of the winter peak of seasonal illness.

''The correspondent, our patient, has quite rightly observed and described her perspective as a patient in our emergency department.

''It is always useful to hear directly from patients about their experiences and observations.

''We would value the opportunity to talk with your correspondent should she wish to contact us,'' Dr Millar said.

Work was under way to improve the situation.

''It is important that we find ways to free up space in the emergency department in order that the ED clinical team can focus on the new patients coming in whilst those being admitted or returning home move more efficiently without delays,'' Dr Millar said in the statement.

Every three months, the Government promotes published health target results that include ED waiting times.

This week, in a press release, Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman said ''the gains made in the previous quarter have again been largely maintained in Southern DHB'', but further progress was needed in ED, faster cancer treatments, help for smokers to quit, and immunisation.

At Southern, 93% of patients were treated or transferred within the six hours.

During the same quarter last year, the board posted 94%.

Asked about Ms Hume's letter, Dr Coleman's office declined to comment on the ''operational issue''.



Helping out is not a bad idea. How do SDHB feel about ED patients pitching in, moving trolleys, shouting "Don't crush the sisters!", ordering wanderers to their beds?. Even fee paying private hospital patients have done this. It's not that hospitals can't get the staff. They can't pay staff.



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