EMERGENCIES ONLY: Whakatane Hospital ED clinical lead Tamsin Davies has urged patients to keep the emergency department for emergencies only. Photo Troy Baker D8651-03

PATIENTS with winter illnesses are flooding Whakatane Hospital’s emergency department and hospitalisations for flu have rocketed this month.

In the first six months of this year, Whakatane Hospital has had 84 patients admitted with the flu, 55 of these in June. Only two patients were admitted in the first six months of last year. A total of 139 patients who presented at the hospital tested positive for flu, compared to only two over the same period last year.

Tauranga Hospital has seen a similar spike, with 261 hospitalisations for flu this year, compared to 29 over the first six months of 2018. It had 291patients who presented at the hospital test positive for flu, compared to 33 in the first six months last year.

Whakatane Hospital ED clinical lead Tamsin Davies said they had experienced “significant spikes” in patient attendances in ED.

“We have experienced a number of days around the 100-patient mark,” Dr Davies said.
The average daily figure in 2018 was 60.

Dr Davies issued a renewed call for those who did not need emergency treatment to keep the department for those who did.

“We would like people to ask themselves whether they really need to see an emergency doctor before coming. Those who do not need to be in ED will face significant waits as there are a lot of sick people coming through the doors at present who do, and they will get priority.”

She said the winter-type illnesses circulating were not only having an impact on patient numbers but also meant many hospital staff were off work sick.

“We are seeing a lot of very unwell patients but there are also those presenting to us that would be more appropriately treated by a GP or pharmacist. Those additional patients each day who do not need to be in ED can put a real strain on the staff.

“Treating those who do not need to be in ED has an impact on our care for those that do,” she said, adding that other healthcare options were available for non-emergency situations.

“The ED is for emergencies.”

Whakatane Hospital emergency department doctor Matthew Valentine said some patients were unable to get appointments with their GPs so were coming to ED.

“It overwhelms all resources; people are filling up their GP practices as well and the ED becomes the safety net for the overflow.

“One reason people do come to the ED department is because their employer requires a medical certificate for them to be off work and they can’t get into a GP.

“So I would put a plea out for employers to look at their staff themselves or trust their employees because these people, people who are otherwise healthy, there is no need for them to be in an ED or GP waiting room infecting other people.”

Dr Valentine said he had some patients telling him they could not get to see a GP for two to four weeks.

Tauranga Hospital is seeing record patient numbers at its ED department, with 200 patients coming through its doors over 24 hours earlier this month, its busiest day outside of New Year’s Day ever.

Schools are also being hard hit by the flu.

Kawerau Putauaki School principal Rachel Chater said up to 40 percent of the student body was absent this past week.

“It has mostly been students, but we have now got four staff down as well,” she said.

The school has 12 staff.

“On Monday we had 85 out of 200 kids away. We are advising kids [with flu symptoms] to stay home, 24 hours to 48 with no symptoms before they return. All the schools struggle with it at the moment.

Allandale School’s principal Drew Manning said they were seeing absentee rates of 15 to 20 percent.

“We had about 53 kids away at one point last week … we have had a lot of kids brought to sick bay and picked up and sent home.

“It is a lot more than we would usually see. I myself was down for about three days recently. The school pays for flu shots for all of staff, and we have a good uptake on that, but it is still impacting.”

Vaccinations limited

VACCINATIONS stocks for the flu are still limited following a huge update across New Zealand during April and May, Dr Neil de Wet, medical officer of health for Toi Te Ora Public Health, said yesterday.

He said general practices and pharmacists had been advised to help prioritise the vaccination for those at higher-risk of serious illness, including pregnant women, children aged four and under with serious respiratory illnesses, people with severe asthma, heart disease, diabetes and other serious health conditions that make them more susceptible to influenza, as well as those aged 65 and over.

Other healthcare options for non-emergency situations

Visit your family doctor (GP)
Visit your local pharmacy
Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 for free advice and information from a health professional
Call your family doctor (GP) for advice or information

Protect yourself from flu

Immunisation is the best protection from influenza, and the best way to prevent its spread.

  • Flu vaccine is still available and free for those with higher risk of serious illness.
  • Hand hygiene is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways of reducing the spread of colds, influenza and other winter illnesses. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds; dry hands with a clean, dry towel or paper towel for 20 seconds.
  • If you or your family members are unwell, don’t spread your germs around – stay at home, and away from work or school until you are feeling better.*Practice good cough and sneeze etiquette. This means covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or coughing or sneezing into your elbow.
  • Remember health advice is just a phone call away – phone Healthline on 0800 611 116.
    Further information: www.toiteora.govt.nz/influenza