Thousands of people each month leaving emergency departments before being treated

Newshub can reveal every month thousands of people are choosing to leave emergency departments instead of waiting for treatment, whilst the number of patients waiting more than 24 hours in an emergency department is soaring.

Health Minister Andrew Little was at a primary school on the West Coast earlier this week, where he got an introduction from his boss.

"He is in charge of health for all of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Does that sound like a fun job?" Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asked the students.

The job is certainly a tough one with the health sector under strain, especially in our emergency departments.

Newshub can reveal on average nearly 3400 people are walking out of EDs every month and that's not even counting those who sign the paperwork confirming it was their choice to go.

The areas with the highest walk-out rates are the Bay of Plenty and Mid Central with nearly 500 people per month choosing to leave.

"The last few months we've had record numbers presenting at ED so that's pushed out waiting times," Little said.

National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti agreed wait times can be too long but it is still a worry if people aren't seen.

"If the waiting time is too long people will go we understand that, but they may also have a significant condition that really should be seen."

The risks with people opting to leave an ED were laid bare earlier this year when a woman left Middlemore Hospital after being told it would be hours before she'd be seen about her severe headache.

She ended up back at the hospital suffering from a brain haemorrhage and tragically died.

"That is my concern that we will revisit what happened," Dr Reti told Newshub.

It's not hard to understand why people choose to leave. In March this year 78 people waited for 24 hours or more in an emergency department. According to our national dataset in June that shot up to 414.

But the Health Minister revealed in Parliament last week the number is even higher. 

"I can confirm that 540 people waited longer than 24 hours in an emergency department in the month of June 2022."

When asked about the number of people waiting, Little said it was worry but the emergency departments are coping.

Dr Reti disagreed and said it shows New Zealand's health system is failing.

"ED's a snapshot of the health system. When ED fails that means primary care is failing or when the hospital is full or short staffed people wait longer in ED."

Those on the frontline said it's time to fix the system.

"Our biggest focus needs to be on keeping and supporting the people we already have in the health care system. We need to make this better so it is safer for our patients and better for our staff," Australasian College of Emergency medicine's Dr Kate Allan said.

The Opposition argued the easiest way to start solving our healthcare crisis is to get nurses off the two-year waitlist for residency.

But the Government said a two-year fast-track is the best migrant nurses have ever had it, insisting it is doing everything it can to fix our health worker shortage.