The Health Minister is urging people to seriously consider whether they need to go to the emergency department after Auckland's Middlemore was forced to turn non-urgent patients away at the weekend.
A sign was put up in its emergency department advising people to go elsewhere or face an eight-hour wait.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman told The AM Show this comes after a "very busy flu season".
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He claimed the sign was put up by "a couple of nurses" and was not an official District Health Board sign.
"Out of that extra 569 nurses that have gone into Counties Manukau over the nine years, I'm sure on a busy Friday night these people work very hard, they do an excellent job, it it's a tough job."
He said the nurses would not face disciplinary action.
"I think they were probably doing their best to advise patients that if you can go to your GP. If it's not urgent, ED is not actually the place for you.
He said the department wasn't unprepared and "nearly 95 percent of New Zealanders are in and out of the [emergency department] in six hours".
"Every flu season is really busy, this has been the worst in years. They saw 400 people in that [emergency department] on Friday. This is the high tempo our hospitals work at."
Middlemore's emergency department saw 393 patients in one day last month.
Mr Coleman said it's "very important" that people who have "minor illnesses that could be treated by the GP" don't "clog up" the emergency department.
"We're not turning away people that need it, but we do want people to just ask the question, is this something a GP could see?"
However, Mr Coleman did acknowlege that for many people in South Auckland, where Middlemore Hospital is based, the GP fee is a considerable cost.
Labour Party health spokesman David Clark has condemned the "strained infrastructure and short staffing", blaming it on "cost-cutting by the Government that has failed to keep up with the growing population".
"We know that the staff working in hospitals want to treat people, but they're afraid they're not able to do their job properly because they're not properly resourced to do it," he said.