A record number of people sought medical help from Tauranga Hospital's emergency department over the holiday period, with health authorities labelling their stretched staff as "heroes" for coping with the extreme demand.

A total of 1797 people went to the hospital for injuries or ailments from Christmas Eve to January 2 this summer. Last year, a total of 1775 people did. At the time, it was the highest amount of emergency department (ED) cases in three years.

Clinical director for emergency medicine Dr Derek Sage said there were a significant number of out-of-towners and holidaymakers visiting, which bolstered the numbers.

"The numbers ... stretch us. Particularly of note is the contribution of conditions resulting from festive overindulgence, including alcohol. The numbers of those attending with alcohol-related issues are highest on first and second January," Dr Sage said.


A total of 206 people, 164 locals and 42 out-of-towners, visited the emergency department on New Year's Day. On January 2, the hospital treated 201 people, 150 locals and 51 people from outside the region. The two days were the busiest for the emergency department since Christmas.

"The fact that we are able to manage such numbers is a real testament to the superb work of the staff at Tauranga Hospital Emergency Department and all the supporting acute speciality services," he said.

"These heroes keep us safe and care for us during what is a holiday period for the rest of society. To them, I am grateful not just as the clinical director for emergency medicine but as a member of our local community."

Dr Sage said many patients arrived with issues that could be dealt with elsewhere such as sore throats, insect bites, coughs, scratches and prescription refills.

In some cases, people had symptoms for weeks or months and felt hospital was a shortcut to specialists but "this is not so".

Western Bay of Plenty Public Health Organisation's Phil Back said it worked with the district health board and 2nd Avenue Medical Centre every year to plan for the holiday season.

Most Western Bay GP practices closed on public holidays. Katikati Medical Centre offered limited hours on certain days.

Back said the increased numbers were reflective of the Bay's increased population and good weather leading up to Christmas Day.

Dave Gilbert, 2nd Avenue Medical Centre manager, said they were extremely busy, especially on public holidays - but had planned to be.

"Often the people who come here are the people who should probably go to ED and the people in ED are the ones who should probably come here," Gilbert said.