Cases of winter flu have spiked up to twice the national rate in Auckland, with hospitals reporting a surge in admissions.
The medical wards at Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland were 13 per cent over capacity yesterday and were only able to avoid overcrowding by relying on surgical wards which were 11 per cent under capacity. On Thursday, the hospital's emergency care centre managed 335 patients.
"We've had high volumes all week," said Dot McKeen, a Middlemore manager. "After quite a warm June, we got cold weather then we got a lot of the respiratory illnesses, the usual winter ills and chills, plus there's been an increasing number of flu patients around.
"We've had large numbers ... most of this week we've had over 300 a day coming through emergency care. We are fortunate that the majority of our elective surgery is done off site [at a separate public hospital] so we haven't had to cancel any.
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"Generally we would have 270 to 295 patients a day through emergency care. Once you get over 300 you know you're getting into winter. Once you get to 320, 330, 340, that's high."
Mrs McKeen said the hospital had been getting the message out through churches, radio and other local media on how to manage respiratory illnesses and to "go early to your own doctor".
The latest weekly reports from influenza surveillance programmes, up to last Sunday, estimate the number of people going to GPs with flu-like illness at 40 per 100,000 patients, averaged across most areas nationally. But it was 83 in the Auckland and Counties Manukau health districts, and more than 100 in Waitemata.
A spokeswoman for the Waitemata District Health Board, which runs the North Shore and Waitakere hospitals, said they were busy, but not so busy as last week, when a number of elective surgeries had to be postponed.
"We still want to encourage people to go to their GPs in non-emergency situations," she said.
An Auckland City Hospital spokesperson said it had had a busy week. Occupancy yesterday was 86 to 88 per cent.