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Turning patients with minor ailments away from the emergency department is unsafe and unethical, New Zealand Nurses Organisation professional nursing adviser Suzanne Rolls says.
In a media statement, Ms Rolls took issue with the reported comments of Southern District Health Board member Branko Sijnja, who told the recent hospitals' advisory committee meeting Dunedin Hospital should be prepared to turn away patients with minor ailments to ease ED waiting times.
"There are many reasons why people present at the emergency department. As nurses, we are there to provide healthcare to patients where and when they need it," Ms Rolls said.
Today is International Nurses Day. Ms Rolls said the day's theme, increasing access to healthcare, highlighted the fact the union would resist moves that decreased healthcare access.
In response, Dr Sijnja told the Otago Daily Times that patients with mild ailments should see a GP, midwife, the Plunket Society, or other primary healthcare practitioner. It was not unsafe or unethical to refer patients to a service that could help them, he said.
NZNO members also worked in the primary care sector and the union should not "belittle" their work, Dr Sijnja said.
Dunedin Hospital emergency specialist Dr John Chambers told the ODT earlier this week the solution for ED lay in improving systems, not turning patients away.