The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM), the College of Emergency Nursing Australasia (CENA) and the College of Emergency Nursing New Zealand (CENNZ - NZNO), warn that emergency departments EDs and health systems across both nations are under extreme pressure, often leading to long waits for healthcare.
Doctors and nurses across the two nations report that staff absences are the highest they have ever seen. Most EDs are consistently understaffed, with marked deficits in nursing – especially senior nursing. The Colleges warn that people seeking care for non-immediately life-threatening conditions will likely experience long waits.
ACEM President Dr Clare Skinner said, “Right now in emergency departments, we are doing our very best to treat people with serious injury or illness as quickly and safely as possible. With limited staff and resources, we are prioritising saving lives.”
In situations where alternatives for ED care are possible, the Colleges urge people with non-immediately life-threatening issues to consider other care pathways, such as GPs, urgent care centres, telephone helplines and pharmacies.
CENA President Wayne Varndell said, “Emergency departments are here 24/7 for people needing care, and we understand that ED is sometimes the only option. Please come to ED if you need our help.”
The Colleges are particularly concerned about the capacity and staffing levels of smaller emergency departments in rural, regional, and remote areas, and urge travellers to plan ahead of travel for health needs.
CENNZ - NZNO Chairperson Sue Stebbeings said, “If you are travelling, please pack enough medication, inhalers, essential equipment, and prescriptions to cover your time away so you can continue your treatment. It’s helpful to carry a summary of your medical history, including contact details for your usual care providers, in case you need urgent assessment. Plan ahead for how and where to seek medical help if you require it.”
This festive season, the Colleges wish everyone a peaceful time connecting with loved ones but encourage people to take sensible steps to keep safe and well.
Dr Skinner said, “Enjoy this time, but drink alcohol in moderation, avoid drugs, be sun-smart and water-safe, and keep a very close eye on kids. Be careful with ladders – so many ED presentations are from falling from a height.”
Mr Varndell said, “Drive carefully, particularly in holiday areas, and follow public health advice on COVID-19. The pandemic is not over, and high numbers of viral infections are contributing to health system pressures.”

With systemic pressures leading to long waits, staff across the two countries are reporting high levels of aggression and frustration from patients, and from their carers.
Ms Stebbeings said, “We understand people feel frustrated with long waiting times, but it’s not okay to cause harm to others. We need your patience as we are doing everything we can to provide the best care possible, with very limited resources.”
The Colleges warn governments that situations in EDs will continue to decline without immediate and collaborative work to reimagine and resource the entire health system. The Colleges stand ready to work with governments, and other health stakeholders, to create genuine health systems that meet the needs of all people in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia, now and into the future.
Alternative forms of care

To arrange interviews with CENA President Wayne Varndell, ACEM President Dr Clare Skinner, ACEM Aotearoa New Zealand Chair Dr Kate Allan or ACEM’s Australian state and territory Chairs, please contact [email protected] + 61 498 068 023.
To arrange interviews with CENNZ – NZNO Chairperson Sue Stebbings, please contact [email protected]  + 64 27 431 2617
The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) is the peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand, responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards.
The College of Emergency Nursing Australasia (CENA) is the peak professional association representing emergency nurses across Australia and internationally.
The College of Emergency Nurses New Zealand (CENNZ - NZNO) is part of the professional arm of NZNO, formed especially for Emergency Nurses by Emergency Nurses.