Emergency department doctor reveals key aspect Government is missing from winter health plan

An emergency department doctor has revealed a key aspect she believes the Government's new winter health plan is missing.

On Thursday, the Government released a new plan of 24 initiatives to ease pressure on New Zealand's health system during winter.

There are several goals, including reducing pressures on primary care, preventing hospital admission in the first place and addressing workforce issues. 

The Government has received criticism for long wait times at hospitals and emergency departments being overloaded.

Australasian College for Emergency Medicine NZ faculty board chair Kate Allan said it was great to see a comprehensive, proactive plan that "looks good on paper". 

"The proof will be if we can actually get the staff that are needed in it to fill a lot of these initiatives," Dr Allan told AM co-host Laura Tupou.

The plan pushes services out of hospitals and into the community to reduce hospital overcrowding. It includes measures such as allowing pharmacies to treat more minor ailments, virtual monitoring and consultation, and paramedics will be able to call senior doctors for help to treat people in ambulances.

"I would be concerned that there's not enough staff and I'd like to see in the plan where that workforce is going to come from," Dr Allan said.

"We need to do things differently so thinking outside the box and doing new initiatives is fantastic… But our biggest concern is that many of our patients who come through the doors will still need a hospital bed."

The Government said it's trying to address workforce pressures through its international nurse recruitment initiatives as well as ensuring health staff have received their influenza vaccinations, reducing the chances of staff becoming sick and needing to be away from work.

But with winter right around the corner, Dr Allan, who works in an emergency department in Auckland, said there is no "magic bullet" to fix the pressure on New Zealand hospitals.

She said there has been less seasonal variation as hospitals didn't see the usual dip in patients over the summer so they haven't had a decrease in pressure.

"That's where it's been really difficult because that's more of a recovery phase for us, so we are going into [winter] already full and bursting at the seams," Dr Allan said.

To make matters worse, she said we are expected to have a bad flu season this year, and with COVID-19 still around, the winter plan is needed to help when volumes of patients come through the hospital doors. 

Watch the full interview above.