Doctors from Auckland City Hospital have been called in to help the Waikato District Health Board cut waiting times in its emergency departments to less than six hours.
Waikato and Thames hospitals have continually failed to meet a Ministry of Health target that requires 95 per cent of patients to be treated and discharged or admitted within the six-hour timeframe.
But their Auckland District Health Board counterparts consistently meet the target, even though it took five years to achieve.
Health Waikato chief operating officer Jan Adams yesterday told board members that Waikato Hospital managed to get to 94 per cent last week, just 1 per cent short of the target, but that rate had slipped back to the high 80s this week.
When the target was first introduced more than two years ago the DHB sat at 72 per cent.
Waikato is ranked 16th out of 20 DHBs when it comes to achieving the target despite the opening of Waikato Hospital's new emergency department unit this year and the $48 million acute services building which opened in July.
Mrs Adams said a big contributor to the problem was the increase in patients arriving at the emergency departments, especially during winter.
At Waikato Hospital, that increase was up to 20 people a day compared with the same period last year, and on average in September the figure was as high as 34.
At Thames Hospital, staff had lifted its performance to 94.9 per cent.
Waikato and Thames hospitals group manager Mark Spittall said in a report on the issue that major delays occurred between arrival at the emergency department (ED) and assessment by an ED medic, between referral to a specialty by ED and being seen by a speciality medic, and between requesting a bed and dispatching the patient from ED.
A "change team" had been set up, including senior emergency department staff, cardiology, orthopaedics, general surgery, general medicine, nursing and a business analyst, to put processes in place to reach the target.
Mrs Adams said senior staff from Auckland City Hospital had agreed to support the team with tactical advice based on their experiences, and would arrive on October 25.
But according to Mr Spittall's report, the Auckland DHB wasn't perfect.
In June and July, it dropped from 95 per cent to about 80 per cent on occasions because of an inpatient bed block. The hospital cancelled a noticeable volume of elective surgery over that period, but performance was now back on target.
Waikato chairman Graeme Milne said that if the problems the two DHBs faced were different, then Auckland might not be able to offer Waikato the best solutions.
But Waikato DHB chief executive Craig Climo defended the need for Auckland's help and said it was not uncommon for DHBs to help one another.
Mr Climo said Waikato had to avoid "shooting ourselves in the foot" and not put plans in place just to meet the targets.
"There's a lot of cynicism around the targets - that it's an end point.
"But it's a way of focusing people on making the change we should be making anyway."