Auckland City Hospital was so overloaded with drunk and injured revellers on Friday that ambulances had to take patients to other hospitals.

The crush reached its peak about 9pm when a record 26 ambulances arrived in one hour at the central hospital - one every 2.3 minutes.

"The ambulances were becoming increasingly slow to unload at Auckland Hospital, just because of the sheer number of them," the clinical director of the adults' emergency department, Dr Tim Parke, said yesterday. "We started to have a traffic jam outside the hospital."

From 10.30 on Friday night until 1am Saturday, ambulances took some patients from the Auckland CBD and surrounding areas to Middlemore Hospital and North Shore Hospital, to reduce the demand on the central city's public hospital.

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Even with some patients diverted elsewhere, the Auckland Hospital adults' ED saw 28 per cent more patients than usual across Friday and Saturday, breaking records on both days.

The 186 patients seen in the 24 hours to midnight Friday was a record for Fridays, and Saturday's tally of 212 set a new high for the department.

The hospital had put on numerous extra staff, including about 50 per cent more doctors than usual in the adults' ED, and had to open extra beds to cater for the large number of patients.

"A significant number we needed to keep for observation," Dr Parke said. "At any one time, we had 20 to 30 people who we needed to keep a close eye on, mostly a combination of alcohol and head injury.

"The main problem for us was the high levels of alcohol intoxication plus a significant number of assaults, the two things often in combination - plus two serious assaults from the CBD and six people from the road accident on Fanshawe St.

"Then on top of that we had all the routine workload of the emergency department."

The Auckland and Waitemata district health boards are paying senior doctors $300 an hour for working ED night shifts in addition to their normal duties, a rate agreed independently of the World Cup. Counties Manukau DHB is paying $400 for the duration of the World Cup series.

All three boards said that to meet the demand created by the Cup, they had temporarily increased the hourly pay rates for extra night shifts worked by registrar doctors to $150; and for extra weekend night shifts by house officers to $112.50.

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The Resident Doctors' Association said the rugby tournament was coincidental to the 50 per cent increases for registrars and house officers, which were "due to the DHBs' experiencing difficulties attracting sufficient doctors".

The DHBs dismissed this and said, "vacancy rates have been steadily decreasing".