Te Whatu Ora criticised for 'lack of action' over Middlemore's dysfunctional ED

6:29 pm on 20 October 2022
A security guard worked at Middlemore Hospital's emergency department on Thursday last week while symptomatic with Covid-19.

The emergency department at Middlemore Hospital was slammed as unsafe for patients and staff in a damning new report released this week. Photo: LDR / Stephen Forbes

A frontline healthcare worker at Middlemore Hospital's emergency department says staff are continuing to work under extreme conditions because Te Whatu Ora has failed to act to address their longstanding concerns.

"We're just expected to continue doing what we're doing, picking up the slack, doing extra shifts and coping with the stress of an overcrowded ED and a lack of staff," she said.

"No-one wants to say we are in serious trouble, and we need to do something about this."

The healthcare worker, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were 191 people in the emergency department on Tuesday night alone, with patients ending up in the corridors due to a lack of bed space in the wards.

Meanwhile, staff were facing burnout due to the extreme hours they were working, she said.

"It's not like the government and Te Whatu Ora aren't aware of this. They just aren't doing anything about it. But we know how short-staffed we are every single shift," she said.

"They don't know what to do and there aren't any specific details on what they are going to do to address the problems."

A scathing report on the ED released this week described the conditions in the unit as unsafe for both patients and staff. It was part of an independent inquiry into the death of a woman at the hospital in June, who died after leaving the ED because of the long wait times.

The report was written by Dr André Cromhout, an emergency physician from Te Whatu Ora (Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley), who said the ED was overcrowded and operating "well over acceptable capacity".

"This is an unsafe environment for both patients and staff and is not sustainable."

Pressures 'being addressed'

In a statement Te Whatu Ora chief executive Margie Apa acknowledged the concerns raised by Middlemore Hospital ED staff.

"Pressures on the ground are being addressed by focusing on hospital flows, prioritising urgent care, and increasing regional coordination to deliver services."

But Apa failed to respond to questions about how many doctors and nurses it needed to address staffing shortages in the ED and what timeframe it was working to in a bid to recruit them.

She also didn't respond to questions around what it was doing to ensure the safety of patients and staff in the unit and how it planned to address the lack of beds on the hospital's wards.

Apa said she was aware of the need to address the hospital's chronic staffing shortages.

"Working in health, we're all very aware of a worldwide shortage of health professionals and recognise that we're operating in a competitive international job market.

"I'm also aware that the government and Te Whatu Ora are putting in place a wide range of initiatives to address immediate pressures, as well as working on longer-term ways to ensure a sustainable health workforce."

Apa said to help alleviate pressures on the ED it was also implementing a range of initiatives - including expanding access to telehealth services and providing greater access to after-hours care.

But the healthcare worker from Middlemore wasn't convinced by Apa's comments.

"It just sounds like Margie Apa is saying, 'We're busy, but we're coping', when we're not."

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