Hospitals not prepared to deal with flu pandemic

Irish hospitals are not fully prepared to deal with a large outbreak of influenza, despite having the experience of dealing with a major pandemic of the disease in 2009.

The first study carried out in Ireland to establish how prepared acute hospitals in the Republic are for dealing with a flu pandemic found there was a lack of a standardised approach to dealing with an outbreak that could affect a large proportion of the population.

When an influenza pandemic occurs most of the population is susceptible and attack rates can range as high as 40%-50%.

The study shows that 60% of acute hospitals surveyed had not compiled or did not know if the hospital had compiled a “lessons learned” exercise which was then used to review emergency response plans for coping with such an outbreak.

Just over a third of hospitals had participated in an emergency plan or infectious disease exercise in the previous 12 months and had been involved in local planning efforts to care for patients at non-health care facilities.

International studies show emergency planning rates for pandemics in hospitals in some other countries are higher, including China (55%) and Canada (85%).

Researchers concluded that deficits existed in the provision of emergency planning committees, the testing of emergency plans and airborne isolation facilities as well as the stockpiling of personal protective equipment and medical supplies.

They also found deficiencies in organisational schemes and incentives for healthcare workers to continue to work during a flu pandemic.

“While Irish standards are comparable to findings from international studies, the health care service needs to continue to enhance preparedness for an influenza pandemic and implement standard preparedness guidance for all Irish hospitals,” the report concludes.

The most important failure in planning to deal with a pandemics is the lack of standards or guidelines regarding what it means to be “prepared”, said the lead researcher, Mary Reidy of the Bon Secours Hospital, Tralee, Co Kerry.

The study pointed out that there is no checklist currently available for Irish hospitals to assess how prepared they are for an influenza pandemic. A total of 46 out of 56 acute hospitals responded to a questionnaire issued by the team of researchers.

The results of the study, which were published in the peer-reviewed medical journal, BMC Public Health, highlight how half of all hospitals don’t have plans to have designated staff limited to treat either influenza or non-influenza patients during a pandemic.

However, two-thirds of hospitals had a plan to prioritise healthcare workers to receive vaccines in the event of an infectious emergency.

About half of the hospitals in the survey had sufficient airborne isolation to address routine needs.


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