The high cost of GP visits and long wait times are pushing many hospital emergency departments to breaking point, the senior doctors union is warning.
Hawke's Bay Hospital has been using medical and surgical day beds to cope with the overflow of ED patients; staff at Palmerston North Hospital have run out of corridor space to treat patients, and EDs at Dunedin and Whangārei Hospitals regularly run over capacity.
Waikato and Lakes DHBs have also issued warnings citing pressure on emergency departments.
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Sarah Dalton said while there were fewer respiratory illnesses this year, hospitals were still seeing "winter numbers" and there was no sign of the usual "pre-Christmas slump".
"They should have closed off their winter beds by now but in places like Rotorua, they're being kept open. In some hospitals, there has even been talk of cutting elective beds to manage the situation, which is not an ok solution.
"Emergency medicine specialists are at their wits' end, saying they just can't do any more with the resources they have."
Many patients turning up at emergency departments had put off seeing a GP or getting a prescription filled due to the cost and their condition had deteriorated to the point where they needed emergency treatment.
Others were making the ED their first port of call.
"It's a clear sign that something is wrong in our health system if people are waiting more than six hours to be seen in the ED," Dalton said.
The GP shortage, particularly in poorer communities, was fuelling the problem, she said.
"The funding model for primary health, the business model, isn't working. We need some adequate resourcing.
"Specialists and other ED staff are being stretched to breaking point and are working in highly pressured environments, which are becoming unsafe for them and their patients," Dalton said.