1492925570447 - Christchurch Hospital’s emergency department braces for winter overload

Christchurch Hospital’s emergency department braces for winter overload

Surgeons will be operating into the night and on weekends to meet an expected surge in patient numbers at Christchurch Hospital this winter.

The hospital’s emergency department (ED) received 4000 more patients in 2016 compared to 2015 and the demand was expected to continue to grow, a Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) report said.

ED clinical director Scott Pearson said this winter and the next would be a challenge for the CDHB, with an expected 2.5 to 3 per cent increase on last year’s numbers, but an “adequate plan” was in place.

“I’m confident we will be able to manage this winter,” he said.

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* Christchurch Hospital emergency department swamped by patients
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An increasing number of rebuild workers who were not enrolled at GPs, an aging population, and people who could not afford to see a GP were adding pressure on the already busy ED.

“We don’t turn people away, but if it’s not urgent they may face quite a wait,” Pearson said.

The number of people going to ED for help was growing across New Zealand and in Australia, the United States and Canada.

He said people should see their GP first and could ring their practice 24/7 for health advice.

He recommended people get the flu vaccine through their GP, but intensive planning was under way to ensure services could cope with the expected surge in people seeking help.  

The CDHB report said a shortage of theatre spaces would create huge pressure for acute surgical services. Operating hours were being extended into the evening.

Other plans included extending staff hours, recruiting more casual staff, a freeze on “non-mandatory” training and improving “patient flow” through better access to patient information.

Older, frail patients who would benefit from care at Burwood Hospital would be “fast-tracked” there instead of being transferred from ED to a general ward at Christchurch Hospital. 

Senior medical officers were now rostered on to 2am most days, whereas previously they were on call from 8pm, the report said. 

Association of Salaried Medical Staff (ASMS) executive director Ian Powell said all ED services faced increased patient numbers and there was an under-supply of doctors to address the issues. 

The increasing demands were partly driven by population growth but there were more illnesses and complex cases appearing in ED.

Doctors were working longer hours but it was not enough to meet demand, Powell said.

“You can have all the facilities you like but you still need staff to work in them.”

Canterbury’s strength was in its strong collaboration between hospital and community services, but the CDHB was still struggling with high patient numbers, he said.

In 2016, about 263 people visited Christchurch’s ED every day. Some visited multiple times over the year, pushing the annual figure up to about 96,000. Of those, 42,000 were admitted to hospital – 2200 more than in 2015. 

Age Concern chief executive Simon Templeton said respiratory problems and other illnesses came to the fore for elderly people during winter.

The CDHB’s plan to fast track older people to Burwood was “a really good move”, he said.

It was important for elderly people to stay socially connected through winter to stay healthy.

“You can easily pull the shutters down and stop connecting with friends and family and that doesn’t help.”