The Waikato Hospital ED is currently operating under pressure due to the impact of Covid-19 and other winter viruses on the healthcare system.
Waikato DHB executive director hospital and community services, Christine Lowry, says the hospital has been operating near capacity for the past fortnight, as they saw 289 presentations on their most recent busiest day (May 31), compared to usually around 200.
Lowry says they recently experienced an increase in people coming to the ED that would not "generally be considered" in need of emergency care.
St John Ambulance say they are also experiencing extremely high demand across the country, with a lot of people requesting ambulances for reasons like wanting reassurance after waking up from a nightmare.
Lowry says the DHB was currently experiencing a high level of acute demand for hospital and ED services.
Numerous hospitals around the country, including Middlemore and Auckland, recently said they are in "code red" having hit a level of panic due to abnormally high pressure.
Other hospitals like Wellington and Dunedin have even gone into "code black" which means hospitals have hit crisis point, NZHerald reported last week.
Lowry says the current status of Waikato Hospital is amber.
"The various stages are green, yellow, amber and red and take into account acute demand in services and staffing capacity."
Waikato Herald asked the Waikato DHB about the average waiting time in the ED. They didn't provide a figure but said: "Wait times vary depending on the number and timing of presentations. Everyone presenting to ED is assessed by a nurse on arrival and triaged.
"Non-urgent patients may experience longer than normal wait times as our clinical teams prioritise those needing urgent care."
However, Lowry says in the past month there have been no ambulances or individual patients diverted to other EDs from Waikato Hospital's Emergency Department.
She says the increased demand was likely to be related to the impact of Covid-19 and other winter viruses on the healthcare system.
"This was expected and accounted for in our winter planning."
Lowry says the DBH put measures in place.
"Part of [these measures] include outsourcing planned care where required to free up bed spaces and allow us to prioritise acute and critical care.
"Healthcare providers have been affected by Covid-19-related staffing challenges and this has meant that community-based after-hours services have been reduced or switched to virtual consultations (telehealth) in recent weeks."
St John reports they received a number of avoidable requests for ambulance attendance, including people wanting to go to hospital but wanting to avoid issues with parking, people isolating with Covid-19 who have run out of paracetamol and people who have been to an ED but have gone home and dialled 111 because the ED wait time was too long.
St John deputy chief executive – ambulance operations Dan Ohs says in the last three weeks nationally they received a 13 per cent increase of calls and 459 more ambulance responses a week than expected for this time of year.
He says the increased demand, together with staffing shortages impacts St John's ability to respond to calls.
"Callers to our 111 communications centres may experience a delay before their call is answered, and we may not be able to send an ambulance immediately where a problem is non-life-threatening," Ohs says.
The Waikato DHB says people can help ease the pressure on EDs by getting their vaccinations up to date and being vigilant about seasonal illnesses like the flu and measles.
"The best time to get vaccinated is now!" Lowry says.