9 Aug 2017

Auckland flu: 15% more people than hospital beds

7:29 pm on 9 August 2017

An increase in winter flu cases has delayed hundreds of non-urgent surgeries at hospitals in Auckland.

Over four weeks between June and July, 530 elective procedures were postponed in Counties Manukau to make way for potentially life-threatening cases.

Auckland Hospital

Auckland Hospital, where 150 patients had elective surgeries rescheduled. Photo: RNZ/ Bradley Ambrose

At Auckland Hospital, about 150 patients had elective surgeries rescheduled because beds were taken up by urgent cases and record numbers admitted to the emergency department.

A brain aneurysm meant an operation for Truda Chadwick last month.

She said the emergency department was full of people who did not need to be there.

sick generic, person sneezing, cold and flu

Flu cases have bumped non-urgent surgeries in Auckland. Photo: 123RF

"I got a phone call on the day which we were all packed up and psychologically tuned in and they just didn't have the beds at the time.

''I suppose the neurosurgeon's pretty busy doing things and they just were unable to have me at that time so it had to be put off till the next week.''

Middlemore Hospital general and vascular surgeon Dave Adams, who is also the chair of the national board of the College of Surgeons, said hospitals were busy during winter.

"Winter time's always a busy time for the hospital because of winter illness which fills up the medical beds ... and those patients [spill] over into surgical wards and means that we can't get patients in to do surgery on them."

The Counties Manukau District Health Board said 600 more patients went through its emergency department this winter compared to last winter.

Dr Adams said there was a winter rush.

"The surgical load is bang on 100 percent for what it should be, maybe 102 percent, but the medical workload has been up around 125-130 percent so that the average for the hospital is that we've got 15 percent more people than we have beds to put them in."

The Counties Manukau district health board deputy chief medical officer Wilbur Farmilo said emergency surgery and cancer operations were unaffected.

"The ones who have waited the longest are the ones who take priority so it's really hard to say exactly when people will get their surgery rescheduled but we do endeavor to get them done as soon as possible.''

At Auckland district health board, it was the busiest July on record for flu and 150 operations were rescheduled.

The Waikato DHB deferred 17 elective surgeries because there was no ward or intensive care beds available in June and July - but it was unable to say whether this was due to winter illnesses and flu.

However, Capital and Coast DHB in Wellington said its numbers were normal for winter and there were no elective surgery delays.

Canterbury DHB chief executive David Meates said 350 people turned up recently in one day at Christchurch Hospital's emergency department, but operations were not disrupted.

"We make it a very very high threshold to get there so the teams come from the basis of doing everything possible to make sure that surgery happens.''

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