A Bay of Plenty woman who waited 16 hours with her elderly father to get treatment at Waikato Hospital says she was shocked to learn how overwhelmed the emergency department was.
The woman, who does not want to be identified, sought treatment for her father in January and waited in triage for hours to get help for what turned out to be a brain bleed.
She said he was fortunate enough to get a bed - many others were waiting on chairs for similar lengths of time.
"The one staff member on was doing their best to try to find space - the whānau room was full of patients, the corridors were full, it was absolutely phenomenal."
She said it was an eye-opening experience, revealing an overwhelmed hospital with staff doing their best under trying conditions.
"It was just chaos really because the ambulances just didn't stop coming in so there were people coming in through the night.
"The ambulance crew were fantastic, they stayed beside each of the patients with the trolleys they had and it was just piled up with patients," she said.
While her father eventually got the treatment he needed, and she said his story had a positive outcome, the woman feared what effects the delays were having on others.
"There was a woman, an elderly woman beside me. There was no ward for her to go to and she was physically ill - I had to help look after her because there was nobody to look after her.
"I had found a cupboard that had facecloths in it and was able to wipe her down but there was no towels - there was no resources - and it felt like they were just running on a shoestring."
Referrals being declined - GP
A Wellington GP, who also did not want to be identified, said the emergency department struggles were symptomatic of the struggles the whole health system is facing.
"There's no beds, referrals that we're sending through are being declined. Even when patients are in the system and they've been seen by a specialist they're not followed up with it. Referrals for imaging aren't getting done on time. If they do get listed for surgery they wait months and months."
But she said the situation hadn't come out of the blue - and had been building for months.
"At least the past year, but particularly the past six months, it's getting worse and worse."
EDs not big enough to cope with demand - doctors' group
A senior doctors' group says the code black called at Dunedin Hospital this week is the new normal for the country's Emergency Departments.
A code black means a hospital is at capacity, with no free beds at all.
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Sarah Dalton said the same thing is happening in other regions, including Counties Manukau, Whangārei, Rotorua and Hawke's Bay.
She said the problem will only get worse because the country has many old hospitals with emergency departments not big enough to cope with demand.
Dalton said even though staffing may be increasing in some areas, it's not keeping up with the demand in hospitals.
She said emergency departments are often the pinch point when there are problems elsewhere in a hospital.
Quick fix unlikely - senior doctor
Australasian College for Emergency Medicine president Dr John Bonning said some ED shifts were functioning with only two-thirds of their normal nursing staff.
Yesterday he met with Health Minister Andrew Little to lay out the issues.
While he said the minister didn't make any promises, Little was engaged and wanted to fix the system.
Dr Bonning said there were discussions around possible quick gains to be made with improved processes, but any quick fix was unlikely.
"We are coming up to winter. There's unprecedented levels of burnout and staff illness in the sector. There is potential for this winter to be not very pleasant with seasonal illness and a bit of COVID thrown in.
"It does have the potential to get worse before it gets better."
Little has confirmed there will be a delay in the rollout of the flu vaccine as the provider was unable to supply it for April 1 - the typical start date.
He said the programme will now begin on April 14.