2 Sep 2021

More than 100 nurses, doctors ready to help Auckland hospitals

10:15 pm on 2 September 2021

One hundred nurses and doctors from around the country are on stand by to help out in Auckland as the Delta outbreak continues to pile the pressure on the region's hospitals.

A security guard worked at Middlemore Hospital's emergency department on Thursday last week while symptomatic with Covid-19.

Middlemore Hospital Photo: LDR / Stephen Forbes

However, clinicians warn this may mean patients in other regions get bumped off surgical lists, unless nation-wide workforce shortages are fixed.

Cancer specialist Kate Gregory is in regular contact with colleagues overseas whose patients are missing out on treatment as hospitals overflow with Delta patients.

"For those patients who are affected, it's a frightening thing anyway to have a cancer diagnosis and be waiting for treatment, but then to have that treatment postponed and to not know when it's going to happen, that's really, really hard for people."

Dr Gregory, who is also co-medical director for the Cancer Society, said sending critical care nurses and other staff to Auckland would inevitably have a flow on effect for other centres.

"It's really difficult and people will absolutely try as much as possible so those essential services, like those cancer surgeries can get done. But pressure is coming that's going to make that a bit more difficult."

Today there were 42 Covid patients in hospital, all in Auckland.

Speaking at a media conference this afternoon, Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said six patients were in intensive care, including three on ventilators.

"I do know that the youngest person in ICU is 18 and all are stable, but anyone who is ventilated may be stable but is quite unwell. So that's another indication that it is not a trivial illness."

Middlemore Hospital specialist Rob Bevan said while urgent surgery for cancer and heart patients was continuing, the hospital has had to "scale back" on some of the work it would normally do to create capacity.

If intensive care units became too full, health boards could divert nurses from other areas, he said.

"But as we spread those teams thinner, it's possible that the outcomes, the percentage of patients that we're able to get through this, would inevitably deteriorate. So that's why we're so focused on providing absolutely the best care under the best model."

Nurses Organisation spokesperson Kate Weston said there were nearly 100 vacancies for ICU nurses outside Auckland and it was a problem before the pandemic hit.

"There's still unfortunately other things that get people into intensive care units whether it's trauma or surgery or other medical events. So that's always going to be a real pressure, particularly when you've got gaps and understaffing anyway."

Delaying elective surgery had big flow on effects for patients, she said.

"It is a real concern because no-one wants anyone to suffer unnecessarily and what we did see last time was that people once they did present for healthcare and felt confident and safe enough to present, they were much more sick than if they had presented earlier."

Dr Gregory said cancer patients who were worried about new symptoms or others who found lumps or experienced unexpected bleeding should not hold back from getting a medical opinion, whatever the alert level.

"It's really important that people seek help, it's still there - because one of the things we're really concerned about is delays in diagnosis or people getting help when they need it."

According to Bowel Cancer New Zealand, it took almost a year to clear the backlog of investigations - such as colonoscopies - and treatments that were not done due to the last nation-wide lockdown.

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