Tauranga's population growth does not just lead to more people milling about our malls and enjoying the beach. It also leads to more people lining up to see the doctor when the winter flu season hits. Bay of Plenty Times reporter Jean Bell delves into the data that shows the hospital juggled a record number of people this winter in recent years and what the Bay of Plenty District Health Board is planning to do about it.
A wintery day this June saw more than 200 people turn up at Tauranga Hospital's emergency department.
On the busiest day in June, 208 people visited the emergency department, according to information released to the Bay of Plenty Times through the Official Information Act. This was the highest number of visits during June, July and August in the past three years.
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In the Bay of Plenty District Health Board area, the peak number of people to visit their GP for influenza-like illnesses in the winter season hit 77 per 100,000 for the week ending July 14, according to Ministry of Health data.
The national rate was 43 people per 100,000 during the same period.
The top reasons people went to emergency department included musculoskeletal injuries, respiratory infections and inflammation, abdominal pain and gut virus mesenteric lymphadenitis, viral illnesses, ear infections and upper respiratory infections.
Bay of Plenty DHB medical services leader Neil McKelvie said the hospital team prepared for infectious conditions like the flu during the busy winter period.
He said emergency department staff were dedicated to their jobs but could be "adversely affected" by the busy period. Implications could include tiredness, stress and a decrease in motivation and McKelvie said teams worked hard to ensure meals and breaks were taken to allow staff time to rest.
The Bay of Plenty Times asked whether the cost of a doctor had an impact on people coming to ED and McKelvie said cost was a factor for some patients but the most dominant factor was that they felt they were in an emergency.
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Bay of Plenty DHB chief operating officer Pete Chandler said the health board was exploring a number of options to cater for an increased number of people visiting the emergency department.
This included the development of a new service model, Healthcare Homes, which was being rolled out across seven GP clinics.
The services included same-day urgent appointments, extended hours, GP telephone triage and other services to help patients with long-term and chronic health conditions.
Fifth Avenue Family Practice GP Dr Luke Bradford said the practice was among those using the Healthcare Homes system.
He said the phone triage system would help steer people away from unnecessarily visiting the emergency department because patients could speak with doctors over the phone to assess the patient's condition and determine whether the patient needed to visit the hospital or clinic in person.
Bradford, who is also the co-chair of the Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation, said his clinic was always busy through the winter months.
"We were chocka as well. Mondays are always rammed before the business teeters off towards the end of the week."
Bradford said flu cases kept the clinic busy in the heart of winter and this period was nestled in between the measles outbreak in April and September.
Toi Te Ora medical officer of health Phil Shoemack said health authorities had received "great support" from the community in the efforts to prevent the spread of measles, such as people exposed to the disease complying with requests to stay at home.
"It's a nuisance for people to be asked to go into isolation, just because they happened to be in the same waiting room as someone with measles," Shoemack said.
"It is pleasing that people understood the significance."
He said although the country was over the most recent peak of cases, there was still the risk of further infections and he urged people to get vaccinated and call their local GP if they suspected someone had measles.
Emergency department visits - by the numbers
Visits to the emergency department during June, July and August
Tauranga Hospital - 14,176
Whakatāne Hospital - 6127
Tauranga Hospital - 13,699
Whakatāne Hospital - 5374
Tauranga Hospital - 14,148
Whakatāne Hospital - 5835
Source: Bay of Plenty District Health Board
Need health advice or treatment?
ED is for emergencies, so unless your case is an emergency you will be more appropriately treated elsewhere. Other healthcare options for non-emergency situations include:
• Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 for free advice and information from a trusted health professional.
• Call your family doctor (GP) for advice or information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your call will be answered by a healthcare professional who will give you the advice you need.
• Visit your family doctor (GP).
• Visit Accident & Healthcare (Walk-In Accident and Medical Centre) located on the corner of Second Ave and Devonport Rd, Tauranga. Phone 577 0010.
• Visit your local community pharmacy.
Source: Bay of Plenty District Health Board