Health officials have issued an apology after a Palmerston North woman in her 80s waited almost a day in the city hospital’s overcrowded emergency department until she was moved to a ward.
By Jimmy Ellingham for rnz.co.nz
Tania Putu’s 84-year-old relative, who didn’t want to be named, spent 23 hours in the department in early February, having been rushed there in an ambulance with breathing difficulties and high blood pressure.
The average waiting time at the department has recently topped six hours, but the MidCentral District Health board says improvements are being made.
However, the department was designed to see about 17,000 people a year, but is handling about three times that number.
Putu said she had received an apology from the health board and an explanation about how the long wait happened, which highlighted how busy the department was.
“We apologise for the delays and acknowledge that this caused your family further anxiety and stress,” the board wrote to Putu.
Putu was satisfied with the response, and that she had made a complaint.
“The more they hear it the more they are aware,” she said.
“I thought it was worth doing, mainly in support of the staff. I’d hate to think what it’s like for them.”
RNZ has previously reported concerned from nurses’ and doctors’ unions about the effects on staff of working in the stretched environment.
Putu was pleased to hear improvements were being made to the department.
MidCentral acute and elective services operations executive Lyn Horgan confirmed the formal apology had been delivered.
“In light of this issue, we’ve outlined plans that were under way to improve [emergency department] services at MidCentral DHB in the near and further future.
“We are pleased to say that all seven initiatives are under way and will help improve patient flow and support, so their experience in our [department] is smoother.”
Horgan said that included a trial focusing on discharging patients over weekends and the hiring of a “patient at risk” nurse, which was happening.
A “patient flow nurse” role would be established. They would focus on “system flow of patients from the first decision to admit someone in [the department] to them getting to a ward.
A “complex nurse co-ordinator” role would also be created to support the discharge of patients with complex needs.
Horgan said the health board was recruiting for those roles.
Among other improvements was the introduction of new nurses, who had reduced vacancies, and building work, visible near the main hospital entrance.
Horgan said construction work was well under way on a medical assessment and planning unit, increasing beds from 13 to 20, and an emergency day of admissions unit, with 10 beds, up from six.
Foundations were laid and the buildings were expected to be operational at the end of the year.
“The facilities will sit next to each other, ensuring the teams can work closely to help admit, monitor and discharge patients efficiently.
“[The medical assessment and planning unit] is currently located next to a surgical ward in another area of the hospital, so this new, closer set up will be more effective,” Horgan said.
“Our aim is to deliver a better [emergency department] experience to those coming to the hospital, and we think the work that is going on behind the scenes to make this happen will have a real impact for our patients.”