Postponement of surgeries inevitable as Middlemore responds to ongoing care of White Island patients

Media Release 20 December 2019\Ongoing pressure on Middlemore Hospital’s surgery and critical care departments, as a result of the essential role it is playing in the coordination and care of burns patients affected by the Whakaari/White Island volcanic eruption, means elective surgeries are being postponed.

In the first week following the eruption, the National Burn Service, which is hosted by Middlemore Hospital and includes burn centres at Waikato, Hutt Valley and Christchurch hospitals, experienced more burns than they would expect to see in a year.

John Cartwright, Incident Controller of the Counties Manukau Health Incident Management team, says in the 10 days from the time of the eruption, Middlemore Hospital has had to postpone 220 elective surgeries.

“We expect to continue to postpone surgeries at the same rate after the new year, which means by the end of January we expect to have postponed potentially more than 600 surgeries.”

He says the extent of burns the White Island patients have experienced requires many operating theatre hours, on multiple days, by large surgical and anaesthetic teams.

“Because this group of patients are a more urgent group we have had to prioritise almost four times the level of surgical resources than we might normally expect at this time of year, and all of our critical care.

“The additional pressure on our services has severely impacted our ability to carry out our planned elective surgery, and we apologise to those whose surgery may have been, or will need to be, deferred till a later date.

“We are also working with other Auckland metro DHBs to ease the pressure on other surgeries and our critical care at Middlemore Hospital. This means some patients who would normally come to Middlemore Hospital are being sent to either Waitemata or Auckland hospitals, in the short term.

“We realise this can be inconvenient but under these circumstances, we can’t do it alone.”

Mr Cartwright says CM Health staff’s response across the board, whether administrative or clinical, to the huge increase in workload has been fantastic and the DHB is now bringing in additional resources, including from Australia, to help alleviate the pressure.

“Our staff have been working extremely long hours and we need to get back to a level that is reasonable and sustainable. To that end, the respite that will be offered by additional resources is very welcome.”

The incident response team now has plans in place that take the service through until the end of January.  The team is also working with regional, national and international partners to ensure that CM Health has the staffing and resources to deliver this plan.

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