Flu hospitalisations rise as wave of unwell people flood Emergency Department

A wave of unwell people are flooding Hawke’s Bay Hospital’s Emergency Department, with unprecedented numbers seen in recent days and flu hospitalisations doubling within 24 hours.

Hawke’s Bay District Health Board Chief Medical & Dental Officer, Dr Robin Whyman, said Emergency Department presentations normally averaged between 125 and 140 daily, but this week numbers had surged to 192 on Monday and 196 yesterday (31 May).

“These are numbers we have not experienced before, not even during the height of winter,” said Dr Whyman.

“Our hospital, like many others around the country, are seeing more and more unwell people through the doors with many needing to be hospitalised. Ten people were in hospital with flu on Monday and this jumped to 24 flu inpatients yesterday.

“We also understand walk-in GP clinics have been experiencing high volumes in recent days.”

Dr Whyman said the DHB had stood up its winter planning management structure to respond to record levels of patients presenting to ED and support operational decisions to help manage resourcing and demands on the hospital system.

 “Given the influx of patients, there is pressure on bed availability and we expect this pattern to continue through the long weekend and into next week,” said Dr Whyman.

“Add to this the high levels of staff sickness due to COVID or other illnesses, or caring for dependants with illness, means there are additional resourcing challenges to navigate.

“At all times, patient and staff safety remains our top priority.”

Dr Whyman said people with urgent needs should not hesitate to come to the hospital. However, he does advise anyone with minor injuries or illnesses presenting to ED could expect a long wait as those needing urgent care were prioritised.

“Anyone experiencing breathing difficulties or respiratory distress should seek immediate medical attention and if it’s an emergency call 111.”

“Unless it is an emergency, we ask people to see their GP, go to an after-hours Accident and Medical Centre, speak with their pharmacist or call Heathline to speak with a registered nurse for free on 0800-611-116 at any time of the day or night."

Dr Whyman said the most important thing people could do was to get vaccinated against flu this winter and have their COVID-19 booster, if they hadn’t already.

“Both flu and COVID-19 can cause serious illness, as we are seeing in our hospital with rising cases.

“We are expecting many people to be impacted by flu this year as our borders reopen to the world and therefore it’s important people are vaccinated to help their immune system fight off flu, just as it’s important to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to help avoid becoming very unwell and needing hospital-level care.

“We thank people for their understanding as our staff are working incredibly hard to see people as soon as possible, ensuring those most unwell are seen first.”

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