Migrants 'clogging' hospital

Last updated 05:00 30/11/2013

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Christchurch Hospital's emergency department (ED) is the busiest it has ever been and foreign rebuild workers have been pinpointed as the likely main cause.

Migrant workers with illnesses as minor as colds are "clogging up" ED because they are not enrolling with GPs in Christchurch, a business leader says.

The city's health sector is calling for the workers to enrol at medical practices to take pressure off the hospital.

ED has seen an increase of up to 20 per cent in the number of patients not enrolled with a GP, Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) planning and funding manager Carolyn Gullery said.

The biggest surge was a 94 per cent increase in non-enrolled patients in the 20- to 29-year age bracket, which had seen a 94 per cent increase. This was "much higher than any other age group", she said.

Patients who did not have a GP often presented at ED with less serious health needs and their hospital admission rates were 25 per cent lower than those of the enrolled population.

ED is not the only health service experiencing extra demand.

The 24 Hour Surgery on Bealey Ave has seen an increase of 10 to 15 per cent in patients from this time last year, clinical director Simon Brokenshire said.

Neither Gullery or Brokenshire could draw a direct connection between the rise in demand and the rebuild workforce because, they said, the figures were yet to be broken down.

However, Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said he was aware non-enrolled rebuild workers were going to the hospital with minor illnesses.

The issue was "critical" and was now at the forefront of the chamber's Government-funded settlement support function.

"We know that there are 3000 to 4000 workers that have come into this city to assist in the rebuild and a lot will not be well accustomed to how the New Zealand health systems work and they will go to the most obvious place to seek assistance, which will be A&E at the public hospital," he said.

"This issue is going to get bigger before it gets smaller as more workers come in."

The chamber was working closely with Pegasus Health, the CDHB and construction employers to solve the issue, Townsend said.

Healthcare will be on the agenda when the chamber holds a seminar for migrant workers on Wednesday.

Pegasus Health senior clinical leader Simon Wynn Thomas said the problem was not just limited to migrant workers but also involved Kiwis who commuted to Christchurch for work.

Patients can enrol at only one GP in New Zealand and Wynn Thomas said commuting workers would remain enrolled with their regular medical practices.

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Christchurch's Migrants Centre manager Rex Gibson said many migrant workers had tried to enrol at GPs but had been told "the books are full".

Buildtech and Leighs Construction both said their overseas workers were advised during the induction process to enrol at local GPs.

- Fairfax Media

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