Delays likely for after-hours healthcare

Staff at Ashburton Hospital are seeing a growing number of people accessing its acute assessment unit after-hours.

Patients seeking after-hours healthcare at Ashburton Hospital need to be prepared for a long wait to be assessed.

There are a growing number of people trying to access after-hours healthcare for their medical needs – either by phone or in person.

Ashburton Health Services manager Berni Marra, of Ashburton Hospital, said 35 people turned up to the Ashburton Hospital’s eight-bed acute assessment unit (AAU) on July 10 over a 24 hour period which was ‘‘in line with recent averages’’.

But there had been a ongoing rise in presentations this year at the unit.

‘‘Despite the collaborative work between our primary care partners in Ashburton and the local hospital team, the community should be aware that the growth in presentations does mean at times the AAU is very busy, and people may have to wait longer to be seen,’’ she said.

Eight people (or 23 percent) out of those 35 on July 10 were due to respiratory illness, which was well above average, Ms Marra said.

Five of those eight were aged from newborn to aged-15, which was also higher than usual.

Experienced clinical staff in the unit provide acute care for the wider community and at the weekend there were additional clinical resources on duty to support potential increases in presentations due to limited primary care cover.

A patient may be be admitted to Ashburton Hospital or discharged, sometimes back into the community for follow up with primary care.

People were encouraged to contact their general practice team, which also had access to free health advice from an after-hours nurse, if they did not have serious emergency needs.

Telephone calls to the national Healthline service were also an all time high on July 10 and resulted in one Mid Canterbury woman and an unwell child, sitting for hours at the AAU after being unable to get through to the telephone service for advice.

Medical staff at the unit also were unable to get through to the line.

Whakarongorau Aotearoa chief executive officer Andrew Slater said increasing numbers and concern over RSV virus had seen calls to the Healthline 0800 number inundated.

“On Saturday 10 July Healthline answered more than 1400 calls, which is 20 percent more calls than previous Saturdays in July.

‘‘Despite that, the average wait time for the day was just under nine minutes and no-one waited longer than 27 minutes,’’ he said.

Mr Slater said people phoning Healthline could experience wait times depending on a variety of factors including complexity of calls and surges in demand following news coverage of seasonal viruses and government health announcements.

‘‘The number of RSV or respiratory syncytial virus calls to Healthline were at an all time high on (July 10), with more than 400 calls.’’

Healthline, the recently set up Covid Healthline, and the covid vaccination line, were all different numbers.

People with covid inquiries can call 0800 358 5453. Healthline is 0800 611 116.