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'It's a crisis' – Overwhelmed ED staff in hospitals often in tears, experts say

Emergency department (ED) staff across New Zealand are often in tears as they deal with a crisis which could see patients get stuck in ambulances this winter because there is no space in hospitals, an expert has warned.

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Extra staff and more funding is desperately needed to urgently address the crisis in our emergency departments, say two experts. Source: Breakfast

Australasian College for Emergency Medicine president Dr John Bonning and Sandra Richardson, the former chair of the College of Emergency Nurses, joined Breakfast to discuss the perilous state that EDs at hospitals around the country are in.

If you want to share your experience, email our reporter Corazon Miller at corazon.miller@tvnz.co.nz

“We’re not sure why there’s been this incredible surge, Dunedin hospital has gone into code black, hospitals across the country are overflowing, I believe this is a crisis,” Hamilton-based Bonning said.

“I have a national view of what’s going on, I’ve spoken to a number of people throughout the country, stories from Wellington Hospital where a 110 per cent of their capacity, patients are admitted but don’t have a ward bed to go to.

“Middlemore Hospital had 60 people waiting for inpatient beds in their department the other morning, Auckland Hospital, 40 patients.

“Christchurch has a new ED and half of it can’t be opened because it can’t be staffed, Waikato Hospital 96 patients in 69 bed spaces at 9 o’clock in the evening a week or two ago.”

Bonning said the incredible pressure was leading to adverse patient outcomes.

“It’s unprecedented input and numbers of people turning up, it may be something to do with unmet need during the pandemic,” he said.

Both Bonning and Richardson warned that without significant investment in both staff and infrastructure, the crisis would deepen.

“It’s manifested in emergency departments, but it requires system-wide investment by the Ministry of Health,” Bonning said.

“We need the minister [of Health Andrew Little] and the Ministry of Health to sit up and listen to the crisis that is occurring.

"Winter is coming, it’s not going to be very good, we’re going to have patients stuck in ambulances because there is no physical space in the emergency department so this is a crisis that requires investment in people as well as infrastructure.”

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Overwhelming workloads and a shortage of beds have left staff so exhausted they’re leaving. Source: 1 NEWS

Richardson likened EDs to the coalmine canary, which provided miners with an early warning of danger.

“We need to realise this is a crisis, and not just for nurses,” she said.

“This is a health system problem, this needs to be addressed and urgently.”

Recently qualified nurses specifically were often in the “ridiculous” situation of not being able to find jobs and this was one fix that could be implemented in the short term, Richardson said.

“(We can) Guarantee that all the nurses coming through the New Zealand programmes can find a placement when they finish, we are short of nurses but we have nurses who can’t get a job at the end of their three years of training,” she said.

“We have hospitals that can’t create enough placements because we don’t have enough nurses on the floor to be able to mentor those students as they come through their training.”