22 Nov 2022

No crisis? Nurse gives minister's contact details to frustrated mum after Wellington ED ordeal

10:17 am on 22 November 2022
The card the woman says was handed to her by a nurse at Wellington Hospital's overcrowded ED so she could complain to the Health Minister.

The woman said to one nurse the system appeared broken and was given the Health Minister's contact details. Photo: Supplied

A woman at Wellington Hospital's overcrowded ED says a nurse gave her a laminated card with the Health Minister's contact details so she could complain to him.

She took her teenage daughter to the emergency department earlier this month and said she was shocked at how busy it was and how the nurses were run off their feet.

"Every cubicle and every corridor was full, people packed into every nook and cranny," she said.

The staff who looked after them were "amazing" - compassionate and efficient - but several nurses appeared tired and stressed, she said.

Some were doing orderlies' tasks because they were short-staffed.

The woman remarked to one nurse that the system appeared broken.

"And she said, well if you'd like to talk to anyone about it, here's the person to talk to and she handed over a tiny little square laminated card with Andrew Little's details on it," she said.

It was his publicly available office email and phone number.

"I said 'oh this is great problem solving ... you've got to talk to the person who can actually make a difference.'"

A family member immediately emailed Little to tell him about the experience, she said.

The woman has written a first-hand account of their experience that night, asking to stay anonymous to protect her daughter's privacy.

When the pair initially turned up, they were 53rd in the queue and were told the wait could be six hours.

In the waiting room, she saw elderly people lying across plastic chairs while they were waiting and several vulnerable people.

Inside the ED, it was hard for anyone to have privacy or dignity, she said.

She understood why the nurse was encouraging people to contact the minister and encouraged him to spend some time in an ED to see what it was like, she said.

Little said he was not aware of any queries coming into his office as a result of the cards handed out.

He was updated daily on patient demand and discussed the pressures on the system with health officials at least weekly, he said.

"Te Whatu Ora advises me it is providing hospitals experiencing sustained pressures at ED with additional support to help with managing those pressures," he said.

He said the government was taking several measures to increase the workforce.

Te Whatu Ora interim district director John Tait said he was not aware any staff were handing out cards with the minister's official contacts and would prefer they used the hospital's own complaints process.

"But it may show some of the stress that our incredibly dedicated and hardworking staff are under that they feel they have to do this."

The pressures on the emergency department were unprecedented, where demand "far outweighs capacity", he said.

He said everyone acknowledged it was incredibly hard, and that the solutions, such as increasing the workforce and a new ED, would take time. All that could be done in the short term - and that staff were already doing - was to pull out all the stops, he said.

"We totally understand how [distressing] it is to wait in ED for hours and hours and hours."

People who had a major accident, a major trauma or were severely unwell would be seen quickly and get good care, he said.

"The problem is those areas which need to be triaged and prioritised, areas that previously may well have been seen in the community and people are having difficulty accessing the community [services] so the come into ED - and that is an issue."

Nurses Organisation chief executive Paul Goulter said the nurse clearly felt she had no choice but to hand out the card.

The union was urging Wellington Hospital not to carry out a witchhunt and it would protect anyone disciplined as a result.

Goulter said Te Whatu Ora / Health NZ should concentrate its efforts on resourcing hospitals better.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs