Public can have confidence in Middlemore Hospital despite patient death, says DHB

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The public should still have confidence in the emergency department at Middlemore Hospital, despite an ongoing inquest into the death of a patient at the hospital, Counties Manukau DHB said.

Photo: LDR

But a nurses’ union says dangerous staffing levels in the healthcare system are still putting lives at risk.

The deceased patient arrived first at the emergency room around 1 a.m. on June 15 with a severe headache. She was told it would probably be hours before she could be seen and left, a doctor said.

She was then returned to the hospital in an ambulance around 4am, unconscious after a “massive” brain haemorrhage. She died on June 16.

A doctor said that despite the emergency department experiencing record admissions and waiting times, the woman should have been given priority.

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Manukau Counties DHB Chairman Mark Gosche said he could not guarantee more people would not die while waiting to be seen in the hospital emergency department.

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“Hospitals are places where people are extremely sick and some people are dying,” he said.

But the public can still have confidence in the hardworking staff who run the department, he said.

“We operated at very high occupancy rates for weeks,” Gosche said.

“These are extraordinary times.”

Middlemore Hospital moved into a ‘red’ setting on June 8 to help cope with a surge in patients which has seen up to 400 people a day visit its emergency department.

The DHB attributed the increase in the number of patients to winter respiratory viruses, such as influenza, as well as the impact of staff furloughs due to Covid-19.

He said the DHB had planned additional staff and resources to deal with an expected influx of patients, but had been unable to recruit the nurses and doctors it needed.

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Meanwhile, New Zealand Nurses Organization (NZNO) President Anne Daniels said more lives will be put at risk unless chronic labor shortages are addressed in the health system.

“We’ve been saying this for a long time and we haven’t been heard. We’ve brought these issues to the attention of our employers and the government time and time again and we haven’t been heard,” she said.

“It’s been brewing for years, but Covid-19 has just made it more visible.”

Daniels said the union first predicted an extreme shortage of nurses in 2006, but successive governments have ignored the warnings.

“We have not been able to develop our own workforce and have been too dependent on foreign doctors and nurses.”

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Health Minister Andrew Little said staffing shortages were one of many problems at Middlemore Hospital and had played a role in delays to its emergency department.

He said DHBs were competing in a highly competitive international market for staff and there were more than 2,000 nursing vacancies in the sector.

Despite the events of the past week, the public should still have confidence in the emergency department at Middlemore Hospital, he said.

“The main point is that if you are sick enough to warrant hospital care, you should go to hospital. We have exceptional healthcare staff who are doing their job in circumstances that have been extremely difficult.”

Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air

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