Palmerston North Hospital's emergency department is already under stress.
When a seriously-ill man brought to Palmerston North Hospital by ambulance was refused immediate access to the emergency department, the ambulance union called it “a new low”.
But the family of the 79-year-old patient, who believed Ambulance Association national secretary Mark Quinn was talking about them, say that was just the start of 30 hours of distress.
The man’s son, Simon McKay and fiancé Kim Waitoa, said the pressure on the department and its staff the night before Anzac Day and for the next 24-plus hours was “just absurd”.
And a staff member on duty, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the situation was “hugely unsafe, underfunded and under-staffed”.
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McKay said his father, who he preferred not to name, had been experiencing heart issues and breathing problems.
He arrived from Dannevirke at Palmerston North Hospital by ambulance about 10.30pm on April 24.
The ambulance staff said he was status 1, in need of immediate lifesaving care, but the staff member said he was status 2, and that staff worked hard to release him from the ambulance, so it could leave and respond to other calls.
“They definitely were not well, but were able to be ramped while a bed could be juggled in the department.”
But the man’s family said there were no beds.
McKay said his father sat until 3.45am before he was seen and given treatment to help his breathing. There was no water available, and the vending machine dispensing snacks was broken.
It was 6pm on Anzac Day before he was told he would be admitted.
It took until 5.45am the next morning to transfer him to a ward.
“It’s Third World. This is just wrong. If this continues, someone is going to die in ED.”
The man remains in hospital receiving cardiac care.
The staff member said the additions that had been built on to the emergency department to create more room for caring for patients were not providing benefits yet.
Part of the new emergency department observation area and medical assessment and planning unit were being used by other areas of the hospital while upgrades to Ward 26 were carried out to improve ventilation and air circulation in areas where patients with airborne illnesses were cared for.
Te Whatu Ora MidCentral operations executive for acute and elective specialist services Lyn Horgan acknowledged and apologised for the man’s long wait.
“An increase in patients presenting with Covid-19 and winter-related illness, especially over the past two weeks, has stretched our capacity even more.
“It adds stress to the emergency department and ongoing flow of patients into the hospital.”
Horgan said water was available for waiting patients in ED on request, but some people might have conditions that meant they were not allowed fluids.
Contractors had been asked to repair the vending machines, she said.
Active recruitment for more nurses was continuing, as were weekly meetings with St John to help respond rapidly and review any incidents and learn from them, Horgan said.
Stuff approached Health Minister Ayesha Verrall about the incident.
She said the National Flow Improvement Programme would help to find ways to ease pressures on some of the busiest hospitals, including Palmerston North, in the medium to longer term.
Verrall said the additions to the ED would be fully operational from mid- to late-May, which would help alleviate some of the pressures in the shorter term.