'Crazy' wait times continue at Middlemore ED after damning report

7:45 pm on 18 October 2022
Middlemore Hospital’s emergency department has seen a massive spike in patient numbers this month due to winter respiratory viruses such as the flu, as well as Covid-19.

The emergency department at South Auckland's Middlemore Hospital Photo: LDR / Stephen Forbes

Patients at Middlemore Hospital were still complaining of 'crazy' wait times in the emergency department on Tuesday - just days after the release of a damning report branded it overcrowded and unsafe.

Noreen Toala was waiting outside the emergency department at 1.15pm. She had gone to the hospital complaining of stomach pains.

"I've been waiting here since 9.30am this morning to see a doctor," Toala said. "It's crazy."

She said she understood there was a 10 hour wait time to be seen.

Toala said the lack of staff was obvious to anyone visiting the emergency department and that was driving the ongoing delays in people being seen.

Nikita Hohepa said her 1-year-old son had just been discharged from Middlemore Hospital's emergency department on Tuesday afternoon.

"We got here at 11.30pm last night. But we had to wait until 5.30am to be seen."

She said the findings of the independent inquiry did not come as a shock.

"We've always had these problems at Middlemore Hospital."

In a scathing, five page report, Middlemore Hospital's emergency department was described as dysfunctional, overcrowded and unsafe.

The report was part of an independent inquiry into the death of a woman at the hospital in June, who died after leaving the emergency department because of the long wait times.

Parliament held an urgent debate on Tuesday in response to the release of the findings.

Written by a fellow from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, the author expressed "serious concerns" about the degree of overcrowding in the emergency department (ED), which they said indicated significant systemic failures.

"The evidence provided to me strongly reflects an overcrowded ED, a hospital well over acceptable capacity and subsequent system dysfunction."

Te Whatu Ora - Health NZ was asked a number of questions, including what steps needed to be taken to ensure the emergency department was safe for patients and staff and what needed to be done to address the fact the hospital was continually operating at "well over acceptable capacity".

Te Whatu Ora chief executive Margie Apa said Middlemore Hospital, along with other busy emergency departments, was constantly working on system processes, communications and expectations for patient care.

"Any lessons or improvements identified at Middlemore will be shared by the wider system, and the Te Whatu Ora executive leadership team also has a body of work underway to consider ED capacity and pressure points nationally.

"We recognise that the experience of patients in emergency departments at times of high demand is challenging for both patients and staff - Middlemore is one of many emergency departments which have raised concerns about the impact of constrained resources at peak times."

Health Minister Andrew Little said in a statement that he expected Te Whatu Ora to take heed of all lessons that could be taken from the inquiry into the emergency department.

He said he also expected Te Whatu Ora to carry out a national review of the way the winter flu season for 2022 was handled.

But National Party health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti said the report was a damning indictment and showed Little had failed to address health workforce shortages.

"Short-staffed doctors and nurses are doing their best while the health minister denies there is even a crisis and refuses to help by insisting cabinet put nurses on the fast track straight-to-residency pathway," Reti said.

"The health minister was warned by the health sector a year ago that there was going to be a health workforce crisis and ballooning emergency department wait times - yet he did nothing."

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