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Ease up on the Emergency Department

Media Release
February 3 2017
For immediate release

Residents and visitors asked to ease up on Emergency Department

Northland DHB is asking people to be responsible in preventing alcohol-related injuries over the long Waitangi Day weekend so emergency (ED) and accident & medical departments can focus treatment on the most acutely injured patients.

The reminder comes after fresh statistics emerge showing hundreds of admissions to our ED caused directly or indirectly by alcohol.

Collecting evidence of alcohol harm in ED patients

Ministry of Health guidelines for collecting statistics on alcohol-related ED patient presentations were adopted by Northland DHB in 2015 after a research paper prepared for the ACC found alcohol may increase risk of injury by 10-20 percent.

Clinicians now must ask if alcohol consumption is associated with the presentation of the patient in a direct or secondary way. On top of this data collection, Kaitaia and Whangarei hospitals are asking ED patients if they have been affected by alcohol in the six hours prior to admission, so that Northland DHB can contribute to international research.

For the period 24 December 2016 to 5 January 2017, out of a sample of 66 ED patients recorded as Alcohol Consumer Prior to Injury at Kaitaia and Whangarei;

• 40 percent suffered falls
• 17 percent suffered violence
• 12 percent suffered transport injuries.

Falls and transport injuries have been the two largest causes of alcohol-related injury in every year studied. The 2016-17 figures also show 34 percent of alcohol-related injuries were to the head and 66 percent of injured patients affected by alcohol were male.

ED Clinical Head at Whangarei Hospital Dr Scott Cameron says a study from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine released in December 2016 showed the number of patients ending up in NZ EDs due to the harmful use of alcohol can be as high as one in four.

This contributes to ED overcrowding and longer waiting times as ED volumes continue to grow: Whangarei’s ED volume is up 7.5 percent on last year, with its average of 106 patients per day swelling to an average of 121 over the holidays.

Some days reach a high of 150 patients. This is our busiest time of year, Dr Cameron notes, adding that Emergency physicians in Whangarei ED have agreed to not take leave during this busy period to better meet the demand. Whangarei’s ED does not turn away any patient asking to be treated. “Drinking and alcohol related injury takes up a lot of resources,” Dr Cameron says.

Our alcohol consumption habits

Northland DHB Alcohol Data Collection and Brief Intervention project manager Mandi Cross says the worst aspect of alcohol-related injuries is that brain injuries can potentially result. “You may see someone at a party who walks on a balcony trellis or rides a quad bike because their judgement has been impaired. If you see someone doing that, step in. It’s about looking after mates.”

Mandi says she believes there is some increase in people planning their nights out, using a sober driver, and says it is encouraging that low and non-alcoholic beer and wine is more widely consumed today. Mandi says while she believes there is more residential drinking compared to urban centres like Auckland, there is wider-than-ever awareness of the low tolerance for blood alcohol levels while driving.

Visitors continue to make up 20-25 percent of ED admissions

Since 2011, visitors to Northland have each year comprised 20-25 percent of the total number of patients seen in the ED over holiday periods.

The number of non-Northland residents through ED or Accident & Medical departments over the 2016-17 Christmas holiday period (23 December to 4 January) was 404 compared to 1607 Northland residents through the ED (totalling 2011 patients seen). The year before, visitors once again comprised 20-25 percent of admissions, with 417 visitors seen compared to 1565 Northland residents seen (totalling 1982).

Where you can be treated instead of ED

Unless it’s an emergency (when you should call 111), Northland DHB urges people to be tended to by a GP where possible to ease the burden on emergency or accident & medical departments at Bay of Islands, Kaitaia and Whangarei Hospitals.

PHOs have listings to help residents find their nearest doctor:

Mid/Far North http://www.tttpho.co.nz/find-nearest-doctor/
Whangarei/Dargaville https://www.manaiapho.co.nz/PracticeInformation

Healthline (0800 611 116) is a free telephone health advice service staffed by registered nurses which is available 24/7 and is free to call from a mobile phone. People should call Healthline if:

• Feeling unwell – but not sure whether they need to see a doctor
• Needing urgent advice about a family member or friend who is sick
• On holiday and want to know where the nearest doctor or pharmacy is.

The Alcohol Drug Helpline provides friendly, non-judgmental, professional help and advice. Call 0800 787 797 or text 8681, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to speak with a trained counsellor. All calls are free and confidential.

Also, qualified pharmacists can offer some expert healthcare and advice for many holiday-related ailments.

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