Wellington Hospital has apologised to a woman who left the emergency department with an excruciating earache after she was given Panadol and told to sit tight.
Maria Viseur was admitted to Hutt Hospital the following day with cellulitis - a skin infection caused by bacteria - around her ear.
Antibiotics were administered intravenously and she spent four days in a ward recovering.
The emergency department's waiting times have long been a stumbling block for Capital and Coast District Health Board.
It is yet to achieve the Health Ministry's target of 95 per cent of all patients either being admitted to a hospital ward, discharged or transferred within six hours.
It reached 87 per cent in the last round of results, but was still the worst performer of all the district health boards.
Three people with minor injuries were given vouchers to Wellington Accident & Urgent Medical Care in Newtown last weekend because it was too busy.
Mrs Viseur arrived at Wellington Hospital with what she thought was an ear infection about 9pm last Friday .
She had been in Hamilton on business for two days and went straight from the airport to the hospital with her husband, John.
After about two hours the swelling, pain and redness had increased. She also felt nauseous.
Mr Viseur asked for his wife to be seen by a doctor, instead a nurse gave her panadol and said they hadn't forgotten about her.
After three hours of watching people arrive and be treated "it just got too much" so they left, Mrs Viseur said.
"We felt really disgusted with the non service. I'm really, really concerned that it's not just me."
The Upper Hutt woman, in her 50s, went the following day to an after hours medical centre in Lower Hutt. She was immediately sent to Hutt Hospital where doctors believed the cellulitis was caused by a cut or scratch getting infected.
Capital and Coast deputy chief medical officer Grant Pidgeon apologised for the delay, but said emergency department staff were working extremely hard to keep up with a winter spike in patients.
Mrs Viseur was assessed by a nurse, who gave her a triage rating of four out of five.
Triage one patients are given priority, often due to life threatening injuries or illnesses.
"While I appreciate that she may have seen a half empty waiting room the reality is that what a patient can see in the waiting room does not reflect what is happening behind ED's doors with ambulance arrivals, helicopter transfers and critically unwell patients being treated," Dr Pidgeon said.
On Friday, the emergency department saw 168 patients, about 26 more than usual, he said.
Earlier that evening two triage one patients arrived within 15 minutes of each other. "Situations like these require a team response and, given the medical complexity of each case, take time and inadvertently increase the wait for other patients not so critical," Dr Pidgeon said.
He urged people to see their GP if they were feeling unwell or seek after-hours medical care for conditions normally treated by their GP.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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