Christchurch Hospital cancels surgeries as it hits 112 pct capacity

Health staff are calling it one of the most challenging winters they've ever faced and now the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) has had to cancel surgeries because of a shortage of staff and beds.

Official information obtained exclusively by Newshub reveals the South Island's biggest hospital has been worried about this for months and has been trying to stop it from happening, but now with COVID-19 at sustained levels and other winter illnesses creeping in, it's the perfect winter storm.

Capacity at Christchurch Hospital has blown out and sits at 112 percent.

"We need to be upfront to explain to you today that we're releasing to the Ministry and to the media that we are cancelling planned care today," said CDHB winter-planning officer Becky Hickmott.

That means cancelling some major surgeries, with a 10 percent shortage in staffed beds.

"We don't take that decision lightly. We very much regret having to do that, we do everything we can do in our power to stop it happening," Hickmott said.

But they couldn't stop it. The DHB had hoped COVID-19 would drop off by now, but it hasn't, and now there's a rapid rise of other serious winter illnesses.

"Previously, what we had was COVID, which was challenging but manageable, and now we have COVID layered on top of influenza," Hickmott said.

And influenza is making people really sick.

Newshub spoke with one woman who currently has the flu, as does her toddler. They presented at the emergency department on Monday because her son was extremely unwell.

Staff told her that children are being hit especially hard because flu hasn't been in the community during the pandemic and so their immunity to it is nil.

Like many, this woman reported that her unvaccinated flu symptoms have been far worse than her vaccinated experience with COVID-19.

"I've absolutely heard anecdotally that evidence that seems to have hit people harder than COVID has," Hickmott said.

All this while coping with a major staff shortage - the CDHB's up to 250 nurses short. On top of this, they've averaged 200 staff off every single day with COVID-19.

"We're in a very stretched position," Hickmott said.

The emergency department is also heaving and is significantly up on patient presentations, with 30 percent of them needing hospital admission. But the problem is that 20 percent aren't sick enough to be there and should be going to their GP.

"Certainly there's a lot of pressure on the system, right across the system at the moment," Hickmott said.

Documents released to Newshub show that months ago, the DHB forecast that an outbreak of winter illnesses would see a shortage of up to 120 resourced beds every day, but they were trying to avoid it and haven't been able to.

Tuesday's COVID-19 numbers confirm they're again on the rise. There were 8436 community cases and 389 are in hospital, nine of those are in ICU.

The CDHB said this will be one of the most challenging winters they've faced. 

"I definitely think we're going to see a challenge this winter like we haven't faced in a wee bit," Hickmott said.

A serious problem for Canterbury, and a preview of what DHBs around the country could be facing.