The Northland District Health Board is warning people away from Whangārei Hospital's stressed emergency department while Whangārei's White Cross medical centre is experiencing record patient numbers.
On Monday, the Northland District Health Board's Facebook page posted an image stating, 'Whangārei Hospital is extremely busy. Please leave [the emergency department] for emergencies only'.
It then stated where people could receive healthcare depending on the severity of their condition. Under self care, the post advised calling Healthline. Under routine care, the post advised visiting a GP, Māori health provider or pharmacist.
Under urgent care, the post advised people head to an urgent care (after hours) medical centre.
At a DHB board meeting in August, chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain said the target
of 95 per cent of patients leaving the region's hospitals' emergency departments within six hours would not be met until a new hospital was built to replace the current one.
The current percentage of patients staying in ED for less than six hours was between 81-86 per cent.
However, similar stresses were being felt by Whangārei's White Cross medical centre where between 100-120 patients were being seen daily, up from the more normal 80 a day.
White Cross chief executive Alistair Sullivan said the Whangārei facility, which was the city's only other after hours option aside from the hospital, was becoming increasingly stretched by the number of people seeking medical help.
He also said it was becoming more common to call in local GPs to help deal with excess numbers of patients after hours.
Sullivan believed the surge in demand was due to a number of factors, including people delaying seeking healthcare because of Covid-19, increased population and increased domestic tourism.
"Those factors that are driving demand are likely to be with us for a while," he said.
Sullivan supported the DHB's message, particularly around people contacting Healthline when their concerns were less time-dependant.
"I think it's a really good practice, especially if people are unsure about the significance of their symptoms and may have a concern," he said.
"In many cases, people don't need to see a doctor at all and sometimes people are concerned so getting advice [about] what to look out for ... is valuable."
Sullivan said the stress on Whangārei's ED conveyed the importance of more primary care funding and the need for healthcare providers to work collaboratively.
He cited one example whereby if a person who arrived at ED was deemed serviceable by a primary care provider, they could download the 'Emergency Q' app through the hospital's Wi-Fi and receive a voucher for a free consultation at White Cross - something which could cost up to $80.
GP Geoff Cunningham, a co-owner of Whangārei's Bush Rd Medical Centre, echoed both the DHB and Sullivan in how people should only go to emergency departments only in serious circumstances.
"We have to protect our emergency departments, there are far more appropriate places for people to be seen and cared for," he said.
Cunningham described how, after the long weekend, his medical centre was extremely busy with many people holding off from seeing their doctor until the weekend was over.
While he acknowledged how hard it could be to get an appointment with a GP, Cunningham also referenced the value in calling first.
"Ultimately, if patients are adamant that they need to be seen, we'll see them, but a lot of the stuff can be sorted appropriately over the phone."