Southland emergency dept a ‘hotspot’

Southland Hospital. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Southland Hospital. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Invercargill Hospital has been identified as one of eight emergency departments in New Zealand set to face the most pressure this winter season. But it appears to already be under severe constraints.

Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand chairman Rob Campbell warned the reformed health system was still grappling with systemic problems that would affect the level of service it could give in the colder months.

"We will be operating in a position where some of our physical resources in emergency departments are not adequate to the demand and our staffing levels are not adequate.

"We can’t promise to fix those in the short term... but for this winter we’re making the emergency provisions that we think are going to be adequate," he said.

The eight "hot spots" were identified as Whangārei, Auckland City, Middlemore, Tauranga, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Invercargill hospitals.

An Invercargill man said he experienced delays when he went to Southland Hospital’s emergency department this month.

Following a fall from a stepladder, Philip Jones arrived at the hospital at 8pm on a Sunday.

He was seen by a nurse on admittance, then waited in freezing conditions for nearly four hours before leaving the hospital without seeing a doctor.

"I finally left at midnight and went home not seeing any doctor at all, just the nurse to inform her we were going home," he said.

Grey Power Southland seniors advocate Stephanie De Ruyter said attitudes among the elderly were shifting regarding long wait times, as there was an element of understanding.

"There is still a level of frustration, but they are much more understanding that everybody’s just doing their best."

A Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand spokesperson said it apologised to anyone who had to wait an extended time for treatment.

"Our emergency departments are currently very busy, and we work very hard to prioritise all care appropriately. Patients are triaged by an experienced emergency department nurse on arrival, with our sickest patients seen first. It is important to understand that triage is a dynamic process, meaning a patient’s condition can change over time," Te Whatu Ora said in a statement.

"Patients in the waiting room are monitored ... and are encouraged to approach the triage nurse if their condition changes or if they have any questions or concerns while they wait. We encourage anyone waiting who is feeling cold to speak to the triage nurse."

Mr Campbell said the hot spot areas would receive more resourcing and have systems to divert excess pressure into primary care.

This was news to College of GPs president Samantha Murton, who said while this has been done on a small scale in the past, GPs had not been told to prepare.

"The really critical part is that the places where that is happening have been forewarned ... At the moment I haven’t personally had conversations around what we are going to do for winter in the general practice sector and how we are going to support practices to take on the extra burden of work." — Additional reporting RNZ