A Palmerston North woman says a parent in her 80s waited almost a day in the city’s overcrowded hospital emergency ward until she was moved to a ward.
Tania Putu’s relative, who did not want to be named, was rushed to Palmerston North Hospital with breathing difficulties and high blood pressure, after an ambulance was called at around 11pm on Thursday 3 February.
They arrived at the hospital emergency department around midnight but were not transferred to a ward until 11 p.m. on February 4.
Department capacity has long been a concern, and the MidCentral District Health Board (DHB) says the average wait time over the past three months is about six hours and 22 minutes.
When they arrived at the hospital, Putu and her relative, 84, were first ushered into a side room. The elderly woman was given a wheelchair to sit in as her symptoms persisted.
“We sat there for hours and hours. Full credit to the nurse behind the triage [area]. He came out and told us that the wait was going to be quite long because there was a lot going on in the emergency room.
“He just apologized and said it was unfortunately like that because there were so many people and not enough staff,” Putu said.
“We knew we had been squatting for a while. I was just worried because my 84-year-old relative was struggling to breathe and her blood pressure was 220/110, which is really high, and it was really uncomfortable for her.”
Putu went home to rest around 6 a.m., while another family member took over to watch over their relative, who was given a bed in an emergency department walkway around 8 or 9 a.m. in the morning.
After a sleep, Putu came back.
But the long wait to upgrade to a room continued.
At one point, Putu was suggested to bring her relative home, but she was too concerned about his health to do so.
“We were there all day and at 8 p.m. she was still sitting in that catwalk. The nurses had seen her and she had had tests and everything, and they [the nurses] were charming, if not pushed.
“Then around 11 p.m. she was finally admitted to a ward.”
Putu said the emergency department was busy the whole time she was there.
At one point, she helped an elderly woman to the bathroom when no one was there to hear her cries for help from her cabin.
Putu’s relative recovered and was well cared for by hospital staff.
But the family wonders how sustainable it is for staff to work in such conditions and are concerned that people are not getting the level of care they expect and need.
“The other thing that worries me about it is that it was just a Thursday night, so what happens when we have Omicron and we have a lot of people coming through.”
Putu has lodged a complaint with the health board but has yet to receive a response.
RNZ has previously reported concerns from hospital staff over how the emergency department, built to treat 17,000 people a year, was experiencing nearly three times that number.
MidCentral reports show 47,904 people went through the service in the year to October.
Since then, 4018 people have shown up in November, 3995 in December and 3877 in January.
Lyn Horgan, operations manager for acute and elective specialty services at MidCentral, said the numbers for the same period last year were similar.
“The average wait time over the past three months is six hours and 22 minutes, and the average percentage of ‘didn’t wait’ is 14%,” she said.
“It is relevant to note that road trauma presentations increased above the baseline of 33 to 58 in November and December.
“Fifty-eight is the highest number in 18 months. It’s one of the contributing factors to ER wait times.”
Horgan said the health board is making progress to improve wait times and is establishing a medical assessment planning unit and an emergency services observation area to help manage the flow of people into the department. .
The national secretary of the Association of Resident Doctors of New Zealand, Dr Deborah Powell, said members of the association raised ongoing concerns about the emergency department at Palmerston North Hospital.
“They report that patients have been waiting a long time to be seen. They are understaffed, under-resourced and the ward is just too small. They don’t have enough beds for the number of patients they see.”
Normally, day shift staff cleared the daily backlog of patients by transferring them at 11 p.m. to the less staffed night shift, but now on most days there were 15-20 people waiting to be seen.
Such problems were happening in other parts of the country as well, but Palmerston North was one of the worst, Powell said.
“The size of the ER, the ER itself, has not kept pace with demand, nor have the staffing levels of medical residents and nurses at this facility. The situation is only getting worse. .”
Medical residents reported burnout and low levels of job satisfaction.