25 Sep 2020

Hospital struggles with 'exceptionally bad' capacity problems

10:51 am on 25 September 2020

Doctors in Hawke's Bay are at breaking point over an overcrowded hospital with some saying it's the busiest they've ever seen.

Hawkes Bay Hospital

File photo. Photo: RNZ / Peter Fowler

The region's hospital in Hastings is struggling to cope with too many patients. High levels of trauma, accidents and poor housing are leading to bed-block.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Sarah Dalton said the last few weeks at Hawke's Bay Hospital have been tough.

"It's sort of the new normal, to be at or above 100 percent capacity, particularly ED, but the last couple of weeks have been exceptionally bad and one of our members commented that last Monday was the worst he's ever seen it in all his career at Hawke's Bay Hospital."

She said on that day 24 extra patients were kept overnight in the emergency department because there was nowhere else to put them.

"One of the issues is there are inadequate community beds, so particularly for older or frail patients, people who are needing care than they can have in their own homes, there's a lack of community beds to release people into so you've effectively got bedblock at both ends."

The district health board wouldn't speak to RNZ, saying staff were too busy.

But its chief operating officer Chris Ash said in a statement there was a problem finding non-hospital care for older patients who are not acutely unwell but are too sick to be home.

"With high hospital occupancy levels it means there is less flow throughout the hospital, which impacts on the emergency department as they then have trouble moving patients to a ward for further ongoing care," he said.

The length of time they spend in a ward makes if difficult to find space for new patients.

The overall bed occupancy at Hawke's Bay Hospital is nearly three percent higher than at the same last year.

The most recent board paper said that on numerous days in the last month, the number of patients had been over capacity.

Age Concern Napier manager Morag Hill helps families looking for somewhere for a relative to go after hospital. She said often families don't know where to start and find it overwhelming.

"We are aware that this is an extreme problem with older people being assessed within the hospital system. They are being kept in the hospital for longer than necessary."

Hawke's Bay DHB said it hoped to come up with a plan in the next two months so people can be moved out of hospital faster and into other community facilities.

These problems are also beyond Hawke's Bay. Just last month, Waikato Hospital warned people to stay away from ED unless they needed urgent emergency care.

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