Patients at Dunedin Hospital’s emergency department and those awaiting surgery may have waited longer than normal due to a ‘code black’.
A ‘code black’ – when there are fewer beds than patients – was issued for the hospital on April 8.
Southern District Health Board (DHB) chief operating officer Lexie O’Shea confirmed there “have been occasions recently that we term ‘access block’”.
“We have been beyond 100 per cent capacity for beds throughout the hospital.”
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It meant emergency patients and outpatients might have needed to wait longer before being admitted to a bed in hospital, or could have waited longer to undergo surgery, she said.
Labour health spokesman Dr David Clark said it was “frightening” to hear the hospital was at capacity during what was traditionally a quieter period.
“It begs the question for me, how often does this happen, and points to the wider issue of under-funding.”
The Dunedin North MP said he was aware of ward blocks at the hospital being “short-staffed from time to time, and of the pressures staff are working under as they are expected to do more with less”.
“The system has been cut back and now the cuts are going through to the bone . . . and I don’t think that is right. I think New Zealanders should be able to expect access to quality health care without having to get their chequebook out.”
The Southern DHB could not say how often an ‘access block’ was triggered at the facility, which had been earmarked for a rebuild.
Previous media reports said a ‘code black’ was issued several times in 2008.
O’Shea said patients continued to be assessed, treated and monitored according to the seriousness of their condition.
“While we reiterate the message that emergency departments must be kept for emergencies – and we encourage people to call Healthline, or visit their GP or after hours doctors for non-urgent situations – the public should not avoid attending the emergency department if they need to.”
The latest data from the Ministry of Health showed the Southern DHB ranked 15th out of the country’s 20 DHBs for emergency department waiting times.
The national target was for 95 per cent of patients to be admitted, discharged, or transferred from an emergency department within six hours, with the Southern DHB achieving 94 per cent in the second quarter of 2016-17, up 3.7 per cent on the previous quarter.