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Primary Care Costs Help Push Emergency Departments To Breaking Point

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists says the costs and waiting times to see a GP are helping push emergency departments to breaking point.

Lakes DHB is the latest to issue a warning - Lakes DHB issues warning over swamped emergency departments - saying both Rotorua and Taupō Hospitals have extremely limited capacity to admit more patients.

It is a situation repeated around the country. Waikato Hospital issued a similar warning in August. Hawkes Bay Hospital has been using medical and surgical day beds to cope with the overflow of ED patients. It has been so busy at Palmerston North Hospital that ED staff have even run out of corridor space to treat patients, while EDs at Dunedin and Whangarei Hospitals regularly run over capacity.

“Hospitals are seeing winter numbers but without the typical winter illnesses like flu, and the usual pre-Christmas slump just isn’t happening,” says ASMS Executive Director Sarah Dalton.

“They should have closed off their winter beds by now but in places like Rotorua, they’re being kept open. In some hospitals there has even been talk of cutting elective beds to manage the situation, which is not an ok solution.

“Emergency medicine specialists are at their wits’ end, saying they just can’t do any more with the resources they have”.

ASMS members report that the costs of primary care and prescriptions, along with a shortage of GPs, are fuelling the problems, particularly in poorer communities.

“We are hearing that people who are unwell are putting off seeing a GP or getting a prescription filled due to the cost, and their condition then deteriorates to the point where they are acutely ill and need emergency treatment,” says Sarah Dalton.

ASMS hopes the new Health Minister Andrew Little will prioritise faster, affordable access to primary health care services for all New Zealanders, to ensure that where you live or how much you earn is not a barrier to health care.

Sarah Dalton also says it is well past time to stop normalising overflowing emergency departments and get some adequate resourcing.

“Specialists and other ED staff are being stretched to breaking point and are working in highly pressured environments which are becoming unsafe for them and their patients”.

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