Wellington's ambulance service has recorded its busiest month ever, while health authorities look to the arrival of winter illnesses on top of "the peaks and troughs" of Covid.
Demand for Wellington Free Ambulance was at an all-time high in March, with the service transporting 2838 people to hospital across the month.
They also treated 1706 people in the community, meaning a total of 4544 had been supported by Wellington Free Ambulance.
Last month, the service urged Wellingtonians to save the 111 number for emergencies, after recording their busiest day on record in early March - during which one caller waited seven minutes for their call to be answered.
The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners medical director and Porirua GP Dr Bryan Betty said GPs around the country had seen a surge of 15–30 per cent in demand on their practices.
"What happens is access to General Practice becomes compressed and you start to see this flow-on into emergency services such as ambulance and hospital ED services and things like that.
"That's what we see when the system starts to become burdened."
His Porirua practice had supported around 1700 patients with Covid over the past months, which had been a huge draw on their resources.
"That's about 23 per cent of our practice population ending up with Covid, on top of a number of doctors, nurses and administrative staff going down with Covid themselves.
"So there's a direct reduced workforce and increased demand."
Porirua's peak had lagged slightly behind the capital's, and Betty said they were beginning to see numbers trend downwards – but, he said, "the actual worry is looking forward".
"We will get all the winter illnesses obviously, your colds - and flu in particular is a worry this year.
"We've got lower childhood immunisation rates because of the pressure that's been on the system so that leads to issues like whooping cough and potentially measles, again a big concern here."
"And then we've got things we saw last year, the RSV and we're going to have that again this year."
Last year, an RSV outbreak across the country saw hundreds of children admitted to hospital, with Wellington Hospital needing to close its doors to visitors for a period in July as a result.
"Every winter the system becomes stretched in New Zealand and we're going to have Covid on top of it," Betty said.
"Covid is still going to be present, it's just going to be in peaks and troughs ... so that is a really mixed picture with a lot of potential demand on the system over the coming months.
"And I think that will be a real challenge for ambulance and EDs and hospital beds as well."
Betty urged New Zealanders to take up the flu vaccine to ease pressure on the system throughout the winter months.
Meanwhile, health authorities say the Omicron wave has subsided in the Wellington region.
On Wednesday, there were 15 people with Covid in Wellington Hospital, whereas three weeks ago there had been nearly three times this number.
There were also 15 people with Covid hospitalised in Hutt Valley.
There were nearly 9000 active cases in the Wellington and Hutt Valley regions yesterday.
Capital and Coast and Hutt Valley DHBs chief medical officer John Tait said they were encouraged to say the numbers decline.
"Case numbers for our 2DHB region appear to have peaked around late February and early March," he said.
While they had planned for increased demand during the Covid wave, pressure on the region's hospitals had not exceeded what they would normally see.
"Overall, occupancy levels for our hospitals – around 80-90 per cent for Wellington Regional Hospital and 70-80 per cent for Hutt Hospital – has remained steady over recent months and is consistent with what is seen at other times of the year and the same period during previous years."
The hospitals were still experiencing staff shortages, however, with 13 per cent absent at Wellington Regional Hospital, 16 per cent at Kenepuru Community Hospital and 5 per cent in the Hutt.