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Christchurch Hospital's new acute unit still without key services, nurses say

There are growing fears mental health patients in Christchurch are not getting adequate treatment due to an understaffed and underfunded emergency department.

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The hospital’s new Acute Services building has been open for months, but some areas remain unused. Source: 1 NEWS

It's been described as one of the country's most advanced hospital buildings, but the new $525 million acute services building at Christchurch Hospital is being heavily scrutinised.

An ED nurse, who wants to protect her identity, works in mental health and says it’s not state-of-the-art, but “substandard”.

“Our work in the ED is post suicide attempts - there's a requirement for us to do a risk review and a safety plan for them after they've been medically addressed,” she explains.

Patients who've taken significant overdoses require strict monitoring. This used to be done in what's called an Emergency Observation Unit but in the new building this unit and the children's acute ward, remain unopen.

“It's one of the areas that wasn't funded as a way of kind of belt tightening," says the nurse 1 NEWS interviewed. 

"They need about 15 extra nursing or clerical staff to be able to open those areas,” says Vanessa Weenink of the New Zealand Medical Association.

Both services, the nurse who works in the department says, are vital resources and she says many patients don't even get seen by a mental health expert.

"Patients, when they are vomiting, when they are psychotic, they are being sat in the ED with toddlers playing with the toys in the corner, with young families with their prams, with the really, really elderly in their wheelchairs.

“Those people will leave the ED without a safety plan, without a risk,” she says.

The Canterbury District Health Board declined a request for an on camera interview but in a statement says at its busiest, the emergency department sees one patient every four minutes and it's aware of the impact on staff.

Weenink says it's “stressful to work in an environment like that”.

The DHB says an extra nurse now can be rostered on for every ED shift and they'll continue to make changes as needed.