Wairarapa’s emergency department is warning wait times could be longer over the Christmas break amid ongoing staffing shortages and an expected rise in presentations.
Emergency department head Dr Norman Gray said the holiday period generally led to a spike in ED patients, with previous years recording close to 50 presentations a day – the equivalent of two days extra work.
“Accidents are more common. We get about 90 extra people coming in with injuries.
“A mix between good weather and new presents generally means more injuries. A child gets a new skateboard for Christmas, and is trying it out, then mum or dad has a go and breaks their wrist.
“Wairarapa also has more people over this period, tourists and visitors, but GPs aren’t operating.”
Gray said despite the increase in patients, ED was unlikely to have more staff over the Christmas break.
“We would usually put extra staff on the ward over Christmas, but this year that may not be possible.
“We hope to have the normal amount of staff, but you can’t help it if someone is sick. It’s been a hard in the last two to three years.”
He understood people’s options were limited with general practices closed but asked for patience from those presenting to ED.
“Things might take a bit longer. The X-ray won’t be fully staffed.”
Te Whatu Ora-Health NZ Wairarapa interim district director Dale Oliff said the most common presentations between Christmas and New Year were alcohol or injury related.
“Based on previous volumes over the holiday period, we expect to see normal volumes of non-injury-related presentations over this time, and an increase in injury-related presentations.
“There is an overall increase in accident-related presentations from a variety of causes, including an increase in alcohol-related presentations over the holiday period.”
She said department capacity varied from year to year, but they were anticipating an increase in presentations.
“Escalation plans are in place to respond to increased volumes across any clinical area or department, should this occur.
“It is influenced by a variety of factors which affect the busyness of any clinical area.”
Oliff asked people to keep the emergency department [ED] free, so it could be available for those who need it.
“ED is expecting to see an increase in presentations during the upcoming holiday period, and we ask our communities to only consider using ED for emergencies as priority will always be given to those with life-threatening conditions.
“Non-urgent patients may be able to access faster, more appropriate treatment at the After Hours Service based at Masterton Medical Centre. This is located behind the hospital at 4 Colombo Rd, Masterton, behind the hospital.”
The warning comes amid a spike in covid-19 hospitalisations this week, with six to seven people in Wairarapa Hospital each day. The previous week had three to four hospitalisations each day.
Experts have also warned that extra travel could increase covid spread in rural areas.
Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand interim national medical director Pete Watson said large numbers of people would be travelling for trips or seasonal work.
“We need to continue our good health behaviours to ensure we can not only protect ourselves and each other, but help reduce pressure on health providers, urgent care clinics and hospital emergency departments.”
If people tested positive for the virus while they were away from home and they were well enough to drive back home, they could do so, Watson said.
People could do this if they travelled via a private vehicle with only their immediate family or household members.
Oliff said the hospital had prepared for covid to increase over the Christmas period.
“We have a well-established hospital covid-19 response plan and will manage increased covid-19 presentations to the hospital as per these processes.”