Wellington Hospital in patient overload

Wellington Hospital is so full it has postponed operations and opened up beds that had previously been closed because of nursing shortages.

The hospital is in "code red" - meaning it has more patients than it can handle - and expects to be for several days. It is urging people who do not need emergency care to see a family doctor instead of turning up at the hospital.

Emergency department clinical director Robyn Toomath said that 17 patients who needed to be admitted to the hospital were waiting on trolleys or beds in the emergency department yesterday morning.

"It's a bit like the O.K. corral," she said.

Those patients were circled around the nursing station so that staff could watch over them easily.

Staff worked throughout the day to open up beds on the wards and clear the backlog before more patients turned up.

"I think it will stay in code red now for several days."

A spokeswoman for the hospital said four elective operations were cancelled yesterday because of the overcrowding.

Staff vacancies have caused up to 40 beds to lie empty at the hospital in recent months.

Dr Toomath said medical beds that had previously been closed were reopened yesterday to help ease the pressure.

That meant increasing nurse workloads "to a higher level than desirable".

She said respiratory illnesses associated with the beginning of winter were not the only prob-lem. "It's been across the board."

However, sickness among nursing staff was a factor.

Dr Toomath said people who chose to go to the emergency department for the sake of convenience should see a GP instead.

"They will find it's not easier to come to the hospital."

Those who had an emergency, however, should still come.

The hospital was aware of a norovirus outbreak but so far it had not been affected.

"We're holding our breaths and keeping our fingers crossed."

People who were otherwise healthy were not likely to need to be admitted because of noroviruses.

Auckland hospitals have also said they are close to full and could struggle to cope with a major emergency.


The Dominion Post