Patients not turning up to hospitals for heart attacks as DHBs look to clear growing backlogs

Sean Hogan
Source: 1News

Quiet is not a word you hear often at hospitals, but at the Hawke's Bay emergency department that’s been the case for the past month.

“We have seen our presentations reduce by 50 per cent that was the first week of lockdown, that’s crept up to about three-quarters, but it does highlight that people are staying home with emergencies and not presenting,” ED Consultant Dr Andrew German says.

Many are seemingly too scared.

“I personally have looked after two patients that have presented three days after having a heart attack which is definitely a worry and I wouldn’t have seen that before Covid-19.”

A newly built prefab block will, from next week, isolate anyone presenting to the hospital with respiratory or Covid-19 symptoms.

“We need to make sure patients are safe to come here.”

Hospitals have changed the way they operate during this outbreak, Hawke's Bay Hospital has set up a separate ward to take patients with Covid-19 symptoms and they’ve doubled the number of intensive care beds.

But outpatient clinics, cancer screening and thousands of elective surgeries have been postponed nationwide.

A backlog the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine’s Dr John Bonning says we should look to start clearing.

“Someone who doesn’t have their gallbladder taken out, may have a pancreatitis in a month or three months, if they don’t have their gallbladder taken out. The same with a variety of conditions and the cancer diagnosis.”

But it's not as simple as turning the tap on, with delays expected as each DHB juggles demand with safety.

The New Zealand Medical Association says the longer the backlog goes on, the more people will suffer.

“The sooner you can get back and clear that back log, the safer it is, but it has to be safe. It has to be done carefully so it puts nobody at risk. But at the same time appreciating how urgently people perceive this to be as well,” chair Dr Kate Baddock says.

Plans are being put in place, like virtual appointments similar to GPs but more guidance is expected from the Ministry of Health later this week.