Lack of access swells Southland ED numbers

Photo: NZ Herald/file
Photo: ODT files
Admissions to Southland Hospital’s emergency department have swelled to be almost as high as Dunedin’s — despite the Dunedin population being more than twice that of Invercargill.

Lack of convenient access to primary healthcare could be fuelling demand for the Invercargill hospital’s emergency department services and treatment that was put off amid Covid-19 may have added a layer of complexity.

The daily ED presentation rates at Southland averaged 108 from July to November but this month shot up to 127.

In Dunedin, the average presentation rate was 126 from July to November and edged up to 129 this month.

The situation was discussed at a Southern District Health Board hospital advisory committee meeting yesterday.

Up to 40% of Southland patients may not be aligned with any GP practice, data suggests.

Deferred elective surgery at Dunedin and Southland hospitals — about 60 procedures were put off before Christmas — has added further concern about the health system in the South.

That came on top of frequent cancellations last month because beds were not available for patients after their scheduled surgery.

In his report to the committee, SDHB executive director of specialist services Patrick Ng said many of Southland’s ED presentations were "primary-care level presentations".

Also, most primary-care level presentations were not after-hours.

Just 20% of Southland patients went from the emergency department to inpatient care.

Mr Ng said primary health organisation WellSouth would need to tackle access to timely, affordable in-hours primary care.

SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said modifications would also be needed for the ED space at the hospital.

WellSouth medical director Stephen Graham said the primary health network understood hospitals and emergency departments were under pressure.

General practice teams were also busier than normal, Dr Graham said.

"General practices in Southern continue to do almost all the swabbing for Covid-19, in addition to continuing to catch up on care that may have been deferred because of the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown earlier in the year."

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