Middlemore postpones elective surgery as it treats White Island victims

11:15 am on 20 December 2019

Auckland's Middlemore Hospital has postponed 220 elective surgeries as it continues to urgently treat patients injured in the Whakaari/White Island disaster.

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Middlemore Hospital. File photo Photo: RNZ / Jesse Chiang

In the first week following the eruption, the National Burn Service - hosted by Middlemore Hospital and including burn centres at Waikato, Hutt Valley and Christchurch hospitals - was treating more burns patients than they would expect to see in a year.

Eight critically ill victims are being treated at Middlemore, and Counties Manukau DHB says that has put pressure on its critical care departments.

By the end of January, the hospital expects it will have postponed more than 600 elective operations.

The eruption last Monday left 16 people dead and two are still missing and presumed to have died. Of the 26 people who are in hospitals in New Zealand and Australia, 10 were in a critical condition, as at Tuesday.

Read more on the Whakaari/White Island eruption:

Counties Manukau Health incident controller John Cartwright said in the 10 days after the eruption it had to put off 220 elective operations.

"We expect to continue to postpone surgeries at the same rate after the new year, which means by the end of January we expect to have postponed potentially more than 600 surgeries," he said.

Cartwright said the extent of burns those injured in the eruption experienced require many operating theatre hours, on multiple days, by large surgical and anaesthetic teams.

"Because this group of patients are a more urgent group we have had to prioritise almost four times the level of surgical resources than we might normally expect at this time of year, and all of our critical care," he said.

"The additional pressure on our services has severely impacted our ability to carry out our planned elective surgery, and we apologise to those whose surgery may have been, or will need to be, deferred till a later date.

"We are also working with other Auckland metro DHBs to ease the pressure on other surgeries and our critical care at Middlemore Hospital. This means some patients who would normally come to Middlemore Hospital are being sent to either Waitematā or Auckland hospitals, in the short term.

"We realise this can be inconvenient but under these circumstances, we can't do it alone."

The DHB is bringing in additional resources, including from Australia, to help ease the pressure on staff.

"Our staff have been working extremely long hours and we need to get back to a level that is reasonable and sustainable," Cartwright said.

The incident response team will be in place until the end of January.

The Middlemore Foundation yesterday said the https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/ldr/405884/whakaari-white-island-middlemore-burns-unit-calls-for-critical-equipment national burns centre was in need of two costly machines] used to rehabilitate burns victims and issued a plea for donations.

Memorial service held

A memorial service for one of the missing, 40-year-old tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman, was held in Whakatāne this morning.

The service was described by his family as a celebration of his life.

Australian Winona Langford, 17, is the second person missing.

The maritime exclusion zone in force around Whakaari/White Island following last week's eruption will be lifted at 6pm.

The five-nautical-mile zone was imposed to allow police and the defence force to recover the bodies of some of those killed and allow for a search both on the island and at sea for the missing people.

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