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By Jim McVeagh 27/09/2009

The HoS reports that Waitakere Hospital’s emergency department closes its doors after 6.30 at night and emergencies are redirected to the Whitecross A&M or to North Shore Hospital, 25 minutes drive away.

Actually, this is not news at all. Waitakere hospital has been doing this for nearly a year. The only thing that has changed is that they are not paying for patients to be seen at the Whitecross A&M any more. They used to provide vouchers for this purpose but have now stopped. Presumably because, if they can’t afford to pay for doctors to run their emergency department, they can’t afford to pay for trips to the private A&M.

Waitemata District Health Board chief operation officer, Graham Dyer,  claims that:

Waitakere’s restriction was caused by a shortage of emergency staff — part of a national and international shortage in emergency medical specialists, he said.

’Many of the smaller emergency departments (in other hospitals) are experiencing this trouble.’

Actually, I know of no other hospital of Waitakere’s size that has had to close it’s doors, so this seems to be a purely local issue. And the hospital does not need ED specialists to run it — third year ED registrars and Medical Officers with a year or two of ED experience could run it quite well. Waitakere’s problem was they were trying to run it with inexperienced house surgeons, which is simply ridiculously dangerous.

As I have pointed out in other posts, the problem is almost certainly one of money. If Waitakere offered the same pay scales for night work as Whitecross, they would have no real difficulty in staffing the place overnight. They have the ability to access all the locum resources of the private A&Ms and also the pool of doctors at North Shore Hospital. It should not be particularly difficult to keep the service going. Frankly, there are no other services running at Waitakere that are as vital as the ED and it is an absolute disgrace that it closes. If you can keep small hospitals like Gore, Tokoroa and Bay of Islands going with 24 hour ED services, then surely you can keep a relatively large peripheral hospital like Waitakere going?

Small Emergency departments form a buffer against the inevitable lack of access to hospital services experienced by rural community. To allow any emergency department to close is a stunning indictment on the appalling management of the health services by the last government. The continued closure of Waitakere emergency department at night in an indictment on the current government and must be fixed immediately, not in a few years time.