Staff at Waikato Hospital’s emergency department breaking down in tears due to immense stress

Emergency department staff at Waikato Hospital are breaking down in tears during almost every shift due to the immense pressure they are under.

An ED nurse, who the Herald agreed not to name, said the department was understaffed and people were extremely stressed, resulting in nurses either leaving or actively looking for other jobs.

A sophisticated cyber attack last month that left Waikato, Thames, Te Kuiti, Tokoroa and Taumarunui hospitals without an IT system for three weeks has further heightened the pressures on staff as they are forced to revert to manual processes to treat patients.

The IT outage had become the tipping point for so many staff who were already feeling the effects of the understaffed and overcrowded ED, she said.

Due to the lack of technology, people were now waiting up to one hour just to be triaged and the nurse feared someone in the line – perhaps experiencing shortness of breath or chest pains – would end up dying before they were seen.

Last week she witnessed one ED doctor and three nurses crying all on the same shift.

“Pretty much every day I’ve seen people in tears, saying the stress is enormous.

“The emergency department has been just absolutely slammed probably for the last year or more and nobody really knows why the numbers have gone up, but they’ve definitely gone up.”

The biggest concern to come from the lack of technology was how easily they could lose track of a patient, she said.

“We have 67 beds in the department and then we have the waiting area. And if somebody forgets to write someone down it’s so easy to lose them.”

Other challenges included not being able to send blood results through electronically and CT scans were only being done if it was deemed absolutely essential because the machine’s memory was full and it could not be downloaded.

Staff were now having to physically walk down corridors to find staff or use walkie talkies after its usual Vocera communication system had also been taken down in the outage.

The nurse said they had constantly begging management for more resource and staff but it had not happened, she said.

“Somebody is going to die, seriously,” she said.

“The whole thing is just a mess, the system is broken, the system is totally broken.”

In a statement the Waikato DHB said a recruitment drive was underway after staffing levels had been impacted by senior nurses reaching retirement and its inability to recruit a significant number of clinical staff from overseas due to the pandemic.

The DHB had recruited 30 nurses to the ED since January to meet the increased demand and staffing levels were not thought to be significantly less than previous years.

As well as recruiting more staff, work was also underway to help reduce demand on ED services by focusing on the care in given the community, improving connection and flow between hospital and community services and redirecting non-emergency patients.

While the triage process at the ED had not changed, the system outage meant that things were taking longer.

“It is a demanding environment for patients and all staff and we are working to restore our systems as rapidly as possible, prioritising clinical services. We are grateful to our staff and patients for their understanding,” the statement said.

Hamilton-based MP David Bennett said he had been hearing from doctors and nurses on the front line for some time that the ED was overloaded and it was putting a lot of stress on the professionals working there.

He said the DHB needed to act to protect that workforce so that it got the level of service it should expect.

“At the moment we are hearing stories that it isn’t functioning as it should be and that’s a result of the lack of resourcing that they are getting.”

“The ultimate concern is around patients’ wellbeing and if they are not resourced and the environment is not working in a constructive way then that’s always the implication people want to avoid.”

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