Nurses warn more people will die if health sector's staffing crisis isn't fixed

A nurses' organisation is warning more people will die if the healthcare sector's staffing crisis isn't urgently fixed.

An investigation is underway after a woman died at Middlemore Hospital yesterday. She had left ED due to long wait times and later died. 

Middlemore patient David Walters is finally back home after collapsing on Tuesday from a suspected heart attack.

He was rushed to Middlemore Hospital but spent more than a day in the ED waiting room.  

"It was at least 32 hours before I got a bed."

A temporary bed was set up in a doctor's office for him.

"They're just so full they've got nowhere to put anyone."

And other ED patients gave up waiting.

"There were some people actually sick that just decided to leave because they didn't want to wait there any longer."

Walters didn't have a heart attack - he was lucky.

But an urgent investigation's underway at Middlemore - after claims a patient left its ED due to long wait times, only to return three hours later and die from a brain bleed.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation President Anne Daniels says the deaths caused by delays were expected to happen. 

"We've been predicting that this is going to happen - I'm not the only health professional who has been doing that."

Emergency doctors have been telling Newshub hospitals are so full that people are being treated in hallways and ambulance bays.

"There is more chaos because effectively the departments are overcrowded, so we have patients everywhere and it's really difficult to do a good job in that situation," Emergency doctor Kate Allan said.

"The shortage of health professionals has come to such a point that we know people are going to die, simply because we cannot do our job in a safe working environment," said Daniels.

But the Health Minister says he's doing his best.

"We've added 4000 nurses to the nursing workforce in the time we've been in government looking at increasing nurse pay. So we're doing everything we can."

But healthcare workers at Palmerston North Hospital have had enough - they've given managers a week to fix overcrowding and excessive workloads.

"They're very very worried about making a mistake, and in this context, mistakes will be made and lives will be lost," Daniels warns. 

Though MidCentral DHB says the issues are already being addressed.

While in Christchurch -  its hospital is at 107 percent capacity and cancelling most elective surgeries.

"The concern across the country is the impact on our patient's long term, but I guess the primary focus is how do we maintain safe patient care," Canterbury DHB's Becky Hickmott said.