A review is underway after a woman who presented at ED with vaginal bleeding was later rushed to surgery after losing too much blood in the waiting room.

Emma-Kate Woodham has a congenital heart condition and founded the Brain Garden Trust to help people also living with long-term health conditions.  

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Woodham said her experience at the Wellington Hospital emergency department less than a fortnight ago was traumatic.  

“I arrived at ED just before nine o’clock and as I got out of my car, I had blood pouring out of me. Basically, I got to the counter at ED and said that I was haemorrhaging and bleeding out and needed to be seen, and I was told to take a seat.” 

She said eventually a nurse came to see her in the waiting room to find her blood pressure was over 180 and she was sitting in a pool of blood. 

“When they cleaned me up, it was just a bloodbath. That was horrendous. So they put me on the bed, gave me a big pad that I wet through in literally no time at all. They changed it and I kept saying I’m not well, something needs to happen.  

“I rang my bell a couple of times and just said look, I’m really haemorrhaging here you need to check and I felt like I was lying in a pool of blood and really wasn’t being taken that seriously until they tried to give me something to stop the bleeding and I crashed – I literally said to them that I could feel myself going.” 

“Honestly the only reason I think I’m here is because the nurses and surgeons and doctors just care so much. They put their own needs and mental health well below their patients’.” – Emma-Kate Woodham.

It had been about two hours once a specialist from gynaecology finally arrived.

“She was appalled at what she saw, and within half an hour they were racing around trying to get me to theatre and they tried to roll me off onto the theatre bed and when they did, there was over a litre of blood. 

“So going back over the notes shows really how bad I was. I ended up being a category one and in the end, I needed four litres of blood. I was very, very lucky that I made it. If I’d been left any longer, I would have probably bled out.” 

Woodham said the staffing shortages that led to her ordeal were obvious. 

“It was just packed, we couldn’t even get a nurse when the surgical team came down from gynae. They struggled get a nurse to help them move me and pick me up and do what they needed to do.

“I saw the charge nurse repeatedly on the phone just pleading for more staff. They didn’t have enough nurses. She kept saying our nurses are going in half an hour and we don’t have anybody to replace them. My nurse stayed an extra two hours and she had no breaks to make sure I had care.” 

She was exceptionally grateful for the care she did get and the effort from the staff but said she felt she needed to share what happened.

“It’s worse than a crisis … it’s beyond crisis. Every single person including my surgeon, every nurse I came into contact with – they are at breaking point. Some of the nurses are scared to come in because they’re just so overtired. Mistakes have been made. Well-being’s down, they’re not getting enough time off, some of them are going straight back the next morning to cover.  

“Honestly the only reason I think I’m here is because the nurses and surgeons and doctors just care so much. They put their own needs and mental health well below their patients’.” 

Woodham has not laid a complaint but has been advised an internal review into her experience is underway.  

“They’re investigating it and I said I don’t want to because they’re so short staffed, and they said yes, they are short staffed, but you didn’t get the care that you needed … and if we don’t do this, then the outcome won’t be good next time.” 

“These challenges are not new, and are not isolated to our district.” – Joy Farley, Te Whatu Ora

Te Whatu Ora Capital, Coast & Hutt Valley Provider Services director Joy Farley said she expressed sympathy for anyone who had experienced frustration or distress in ED. 

“Like other emergency departments around the country, Te Pae Tiaki Wellington ED and the Hutt Hospital ED continue to experience high volumes of presentations from patients with increasingly complex conditions and acuity.  

“Pressure on our services continues to be exacerbated by staff absences across all services for a range of reasons such as general illness, long Covid-19 tail, and the need to isolate or care for dependents who may need to isolate. Staff absence rates continuously change as people recover, or complete isolation, and return to work. These challenges are not new, and are not isolated to our district.” 

Figures obtained by National Party health spokesperson Shane Reti in late October showed a quarter of people were waiting six hours or more to be seen at EDs around the country. 

Health Minister Andrew Little has admitted the departments are under pressure, and says this is because of high numbers of presentations, and long-term underinvestment in the system. 

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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