EDs frustrated by patients with minor injuries

EDs frustrated by patients with minor injuries

Emergency departments around the country are under increasing strain, but up to 10 percent of ED visits may be unnecessary.

Minor ailments including colds, ulcers and even paper cuts are distracting doctors and nurses from those who really need emergency care.

Around one in four Kiwis will make a visit to ED this year -- more than 1 million patients -- and the numbers are rising.

Middlemore Hospital in south Auckland is home to the country's busiest ED. Numbers this year are already up 5 percent on last year. They see up to 350 patients a day and, with the winter peak on the way, they're concerned that number could go over 400.

"That's a lot of patients to manage over 24 hours," says clinical head of emergency medicine Vanessa Thornton. "There is some anxiety how we're going to manage the work load in the winter period."

There's some concern that people with non-emergencies are adding to the stress on resources.

"Lumps and bumps that have been there for a long time, minor injuries like paper cuts and things like that could all be managed at home," says Dr Thornton.

She says some people don't understand the concept of emergency treatment.

"Emergency departments are for the seriously sick and injured people, so life- and limb-threatening illnesses -- people who could die in the next 24 hours if they don't receive care."

Staff have revealed some of the more unusual reasons people have attended ED -- an eight-year-old leg ulcer, cold and flu symptoms, a single vomit, a sore hand, antibiotics not working after a single dose, hair dye spilled on arm and paper cuts. All were people who could have gone to a GP, pharmacy or urgent care clinic.

Other patients report they go to the ED because they haven't registered with a doctor, with some seeing it as a free doctor's visit.

Charge nurse Sharon Lendrum says she sees too many patients who don't need emergency treatment.

"They don't see what's happening in the rest of the department. They don't know that our doctors are saving lives, saving those critically ill patients.

"A cut on the foot, a sore hand, someone with cold- or flu-like illnesses that have seen a GP -- that's not an emergency. People's perception of what are emergencies is quite different. It's just about educating them about what we do."

People are being encouraged to think twice before attending ED. If uncertain you can call your GP or Healthline for advice on 0800 611 116. It could save you a long wait.