Emergency departments urge Kiwis to stay safe over summer

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

Emergency doctors are urging Kiwis to play it safe this summer with Covid-19 in the community and emergency departments facing unprecedented pressure.

“When people are off on holiday, the rest of us will be fully togged up in PPE, wearing N95 masks, protecting ourselves, protecting our patients so we're hoping that there are some avoidable presentations that do not occur over the holiday period,” Australasian College for Emergency Medicine Immediate Past President Dr John Bonning told 1News.

Nurse resignations, PPE requirements, Covid-19 protocols and a steady increase in patients needing care for illnesses like pneumonia and diabetes as well as trauma are all contributing to the pressure.

Bonning said a target for patients to only stay in Waikato Hospital’s emergency department for a maximum of six hours is now unachievable.

Operating theatres and hospital wards will run at a reduced capacity over the summer break.

“Unfortunately, patients are waiting 18 hours, 20 hours, 24 hours in ED waiting to move through and if the backdoor of ED up into the wards is not working, of course the tap is still pouring in the front and sometimes we can't even offload ambulances,” Bonning said.

He said there are increases in people needing treatment for alcohol and drug use, as well as car accidents, over the Christmas and New Year period.

Water incidents, sun burn and home renovations also result in ED presentations.

“Put your hat on and don’t get sun burnt, surprisingly enough some people do come to emergency departments with sunburn but they get a little bit of a short shift from us,” he said.

Bonning said some of these incidents are avoidable and delay care for other patients.

“Please do be patient - we're working our hardest, doing our best.

“There can be times where there's 30, 50, 50 patients waiting to be seen - some patients have to wait 6, 10, 12 hours to be seen,” he said.

As always, patients are prioritised based on their needs.

“If they’re sitting in a waiting room and the resuscitation rooms are really busy they won’t see that - try to be gentle and calm - many of us will not be taking holidays… sometimes we get minor complaints about people waiting for a couple of hours and they really don’t see those young and elderly people in other parts of the department,” Bonning said.

Smaller hospitals in popular holiday spots are expected to struggle the most.

“It's really important that you know people are just respectful and mindful of the increased strain and you know a ‘thank you’ goes a long way in a rural area,” New Zealand Rural General Practice Network’s Dr Jeremy Webber said.

He’s concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on rural New Zealand.

“While the Government doesn’t expect our rural hospitals to deal with it, you know the patient population expects to be treated close to home and they are going to present to our rural environments and yes, we are going to get them safely to somewhere else but we need to make sure our staff and patients are safe as well,” he said.

Many rural hospitals missed out on the Government's $644 million investment in pandemic infrastructure.

The majority of district health boards did not submit projects at rural hospitals to be considered for funding.

In a statement, Health Minister Andrew Little said hospitals with safety concerns should contact their district health board.

"The smaller the hospital, the higher the risk to non-Covid patients, which is why our Care in the Community programme is based on hospitals organising as regions and sending patients to the hospital best equipped to safely provide the care they need," he said.