Rotorua Hospital's 180 beds remained full today after reaching capacity on the weekend. In a statement on Sunday, the hospital said it was not expecting to have many discharges and Rotorua residents have been told not to go to the Rotorua Hospital emergency department unless it's a "real emergency". Samantha Olley reports.
Rotorua Hospital saw a 35 per cent increase in patients arriving at the emergency department on Saturday, compared with a normal weekend.
That was followed by a 20 per cent increase on Sunday when staff declared the hospital was full.
Today a spokeswoman said up to 20 per cent of people arriving at the department on the weekend had flu-related symptoms, but only one patient said he'd had a flu vaccination this year.
"Additionally, there were quite a few with respiratory type illness, eg bronchiolitis, asthma."
She said staff had been doing a "wonderful job".
"We were also very appreciative of the work by Lakes PrimeCare, as some patients headed there after hearing of the likely wait."
In a media statement on Sunday the District Health Board said: "With patients already waiting in ED until a hospital bed is available, the situation is not expected to improve quickly."
"Hospital staff say a number of people coming into the ED would be better placed heading to Lakes PrimeCare, the after-hours medical centre in Rotorua."
Rotorua mother Jo Yerex took her daughter into the emergency department with burns to most of her forearm at 9.30pm on Saturday night, just after Lakes PrimeCare closed, and they left at 1.30am.
She was surprised the hospital was at capacity because some cubicles were empty, but she said all the staff "were lovely and apologetic".
"We were taken straight through by the nurse to continue running under water for a further 20 minutes. After that, we didn't see anyone until 1am when we went to see how long it would be and ask for some pain relief.
"By the time they came to see her the treatment was all of 15 minutes. Then we waited for our discharge."
She said in her opinion, many people couldn't afford to go anywhere else, so the emergency department was their only option.
The Lakes DHB declined to comment on her experience.
Rotorua woman Sally Carr said she was not surprised to see the hospital at capacity.
In April last year, and earlier this month, she needed a bed when she had pancreatitis.
She said during those times the hospital was busier than ever.
"It was amazing the number of people that came in with cuts, coughs, colds... I feel the hospital is a drop-in health centre for minor issues that could be seen at a GP. It all comes back to financial costs to families."
In an interview last week, newly appointed Lakes DHB chief executive Nick-Saville Wood said Lakes was the third most deprived DHB area in the country.
"We have people coming to the hospital that don't really need to come to us, just because they can't afford to go to primary care."
He said the Lakes DHB's emergency department response times were the fastest they had been in years.
"We were probably the worst in the country at one stage, but are now regularly up there at 95 per cent [of target times]."
Emergency department doctor Vijay Thumma said on Sunday that people with flu-type symptoms were often better off staying at home, tucked up in bed with plenty of fluids and paracetamol.
"If the symptoms persist or get worse, make an appointment [with a GP]."
He said with the onset of the flu season it was important to remember the basics.
"Like covering your cough and washing your hands often, to stop the spread of germs. And most importantly... people should remember to stay home from work and school."
If it's not an emergency
Go to your general practitioner in the first instance.
There is no charge at Lakes PrimeCare for children under 14 who are enrolled with a local doctor. The after hours and urgent medical centre is open from 8am until 9.30pm each day.
Medical advice is also available by telephone if you or your whānau are unwell. The free service is available 24/7 0800 611 116.