Investigation underway at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital after patient dies following claims they left ED due to long wait times

There are fresh concerns hospitals are buckling under the winter strain.

An investigation is underway at Middlemore Hospital after claims a patient left the Emergency Department due to long wait times, only to return three hours later following a life-threatening emergency.

The patient has since died in intensive care.

Middlemore Hospital said it's under "extreme pressure". Now it appears long wait times may be impacting even life-saving treatment.

An email sent to Newshub overnight revealed a woman "turned up to ED at 1am yesterday with a severe headache, but was turned away due to long wait times. She returned three hours later, intubated" on a breathing tube.  

The doctor, who wants to remain unnamed, said: "This woman was a well Kiwi who could have been saved had our health system been coping."

The email said the woman had suffered from a massive subarachnoid brain bleed.

In a statement, Dr Pete Watson, Acting CEO Counties Manukau Health said: "In the early hours of Wednesday morning a patient presented to our Emergency Department who then left only to return a few hours later following a life threatening emergency."

"The circumstances of the patient leaving the hospital are being urgently investigated," he continued.

"We acknowledge this is an extremely stressful time for the family and we have instigated an immediate investigation into the case and circumstances."

Earlier on Thursday, before Newshub had been able to confirm the incident, Health Minister Andrew Little acknowledged that hospitals are under huge pressure.

"A flu season that is bigger than we've seen before, with COVID still having its impact, with staff absenteeism being greater than usual, that is going to put pressure on services," he said.

"But people are still getting the care that they need from the services."

When the borders reopened, we were warned of an influx of winter illness - this is it.

The pre-departure test that served to reduce the burden of disease, is now defunct. The Government is scrapping it from Monday night.

"We know they have a low positivity rate, so this change is a safe change that we're now ready to make and welcome back more travellers to New Zealand," said COVID-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall. 

Which is music to the ears of the tourism industry.

"Today's announcement is really good timing for the ski season, especially after all the snow we've had this week, and also for the upcoming school holidays," said Ann-Marie Johnson from Tourism Industry Aotearoa.

But for the health sector, it's added pressure, especially as winter illnesses other than COVID-19 are pouring in through the border.

"We're certainly seeing some hospitals under the pump. We've seen Counties Manukau, we've seen Wellington, we've seen Canterbury, we've seen Auckland is feeling it as well," Little said.

"This is not a whole bunch more people with COVID anymore, this is people with flu symptoms."

Thursday marked the million flu vaccine milestone - but there's another million to go.

Health officials want more people to get a flu jab this year, even if they've never had one before.

"We haven't seen flu now for over two years, so that immunity that we may have had for strains of flu in the past we don't necessarily have from natural exposure," said Dr Anthony Jordan.

So they're calling on more people to get immunised to ease the pressure on hospitals.