Whanganui District Health Board has hit back at criticism of long waiting times at its emergency department, saying delays are down to patients seeking treatment for non-urgent conditions.

It says it is taking steps to improve its patient wait times by better educating people before they come through the emergency department's doors.

Last month Chronicle columnist Kate Stewart wrote about visiting the emergency department with a foot injury and waiting for around five hours, but eventually leaving the hospital to treat herself at home after not being seen by a doctor.

Some social media users said they had previously waited for more than eight hours before being seen by a doctor.

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The Ministry of Health has set a target that 95 per cent of patients have a maximum stay of six hours in any emergency department, before being discharged or transferred to another hospital.

Whanganui DHB figures show over a period of 18 months from June 2017 to December 2018, the emergency department averaged just over 90 per cent.

A Whanganui DHB spokesperson said that's on par with the overall national performance of District Health Boards.

Statistics on Whanganui's aggregate average emergency department wait times were not available.

The Whanganui DHB spokesperson said the emergency department was one of the most pressured departments, with much of that pressure coming from people turning up with non-urgent issues that can significantly add to patient wait times.

The emergency department breaks down the time it takes from a patient arriving, to being seen by a doctor, across five steps.

Status one means the patient requires an immediate doctor assessment, while other statuses are measured by doctor assessment within 10, 30, 60 or 90 minutes.

A Whanganui DHB spokesperson said patients entering the emergency department should be triaged within five minutes, with the assessment based on vital signs, blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, oxygen situation, pain scale, weight and level of consciousness.

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The result of the initial assessment will determine how soon the patient should be seen by a doctor.

Part of the DHB's education campaign is to establish the difference between the emergency department and Whanganui Accident & Medical, or WAM, which are both on the hospital campus and share the same reception and triage service.

The Whanganui DHB spokesperson said WAM's role is assessment and treatment of accidents and injuries that are urgent but not emergencies, while also providing after-hours general medical care or primary health care.

"The most effective way to improve wait times is to empower the patient to be in the right place at the right time," the Whanganui DHB spokesperson said.