A Canadian visitor has criticised the health care in this country after waiting 14 hours without treatment at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital.

But Middlemore officials say the tourist was caught up in an unusually overloaded hospital which has been at capacity for eight days and swamped by patients needing urgent surgery.

Dennis Wilkinson, 50, from Vancouver, has complained to the hospital and the Ministry of Health after waiting at Middlemore for two days for surgery on his thumb.

A potentially infectious spike from a fish fin had gotten stuck in his hand while he was fishing on Sunday.


After receiving an ultrasound and x-ray at the emergency department on Monday he was told in the early evening he could not be treated and was asked to return the next day. He was seen by a doctor on Tuesday morning but sent home again in the afternoon when told surgical spots were full.

Mr Wilkinson: "I said it only takes 14 hours to fly here from Canada. In Canada we don't make people wait for 14 hours in the emergency wards ... there is better health care in Central America."

Middlemore communications director Lauren Young said the hospital's medical and surgical wards were at 105 per cent of capacity on Monday, and 103 per cent on Tuesday.

Thirty-one patients were waiting for inpatient beds on Tuesday and eight of them were waiting for similar operations to Mr Wilkinson.

"It is most unusual, but the demand for surgical services has been huge.

"Of course it's not acceptable, we hate it that patients have to wait. That's not the ideal for anybody. But the pressure the hospital's under, we absolutely have to prioritise," Ms Young said.

Mr Wilkinson left for Canada last night without being treated. He said he was still in some discomfort.

The Government has a target for hospitals to admit, discharge or transfer 95 per cent of patients within six hours. In Mr Wilkinson's case, he was first admitted 2 hours after arriving. Ms Young said that despite the overcrowding of wards last week, the target was still being met.


Emergency department clinical head Vanessa Thornton said the hospital's inpatient wards had been full or over-capacity since last Thursday, which was rare for the end of summer. She was concerned about the scarcity of hospital beds as the weather became colder.

"As someone is leaving, the hospital bed is never really cold. You're getting out the door and the next person is replacing you. This is not the ideal way to function efficiently."

Middlemore's admission numbers were 7 per cent higher compared with this time last year, with around 280 people coming into the emergency department every day. Many admissions had been for complicated problems - cellulitis, abscesses, abdominal pain, hand injuries and orthopaedic injuries.

Middlemore was criticised in 2007 for having one of the longest emergency waiting times in the country, but it has since improved that record. It has increased surgical theatre times, and consults primary care providers in case hospital admissions can be prevented.

Middlemore: 103%
Auckland: 95%
Starship: 100%
North Shore: 88%
Waitakere: 89%