Una Adderley reflects on how the threat of a pandemic has provided useful lessons on the ability of the NHS to cope in an emergency ...
At the time of writing, it appears that the threatened swine flu pandemic has failed to materialise, much to everyone's relief.
We know we have to keep our wits about us as it may re-emerge in the autumn but, for now, the sense of panic seems to have disappeared and I am no longer receiving eight emails a day about the subject.
On the one hand it feels as though there has been a disproportionate amount of fuss, which has consumed a lot of NHS time (and hence, money). On the other, when we reflect, we feel that we have learnt a lot from the experience.
As the team leader of eight specialist nursing teams I have had to think very carefully about which of us provides a service that can be temporarily suspended if needed.
For example, in the case of a pandemic, the nurses of the cardiac rehabilitation teams might need to be deployed in the community hospital to cover the anticipated extra patients and increased staff sickness (since nurses are not immune from flu!).
However, our heart failure colleagues should not be taken away from their clinical work since they play a vital role in keeping their patients at home rather than taking up valuable hospital beds.
A colleague who manages a community hospital has had to think through how essential items such as masks and gloves can be ordered and supplied to the community around them.
We have also had to think about how we can work constructively with the surrounding community. For example, if the schools are closed, it is possible that their catering staff might be able to work with the hospital catering team to help fill gaps due to illness.
We have also held our first teleconference. As employees in a very large geographical organisation we have toyed with the idea of holding some meetings as teleconferences to save the hours of travel and gallons of petrol involved in face-to-face meetings.
The urgency of preparing for the possible swine flu pandemic made this a necessity and we coped admirably with the technology. Suddenly, the prospect of ringing in to a teleconference is no longer so scary.
So, on balance, although this has been a fairly demanding time, it has proved to be a very useful exercise for thinking through many of the issues that would face us in a pandemic situation. Yet again, I am reminded that all experience is useful. Now we just have to brace ourselves for the heatwave that they keep warning us about!
On a final note, yesterday's news made the sobering point that while the world's health community has been panicking about swine flu, malaria continues to kill someone every 30 seconds, mainly children under the age of five. It makes you wonder if we have got our priorities right ...
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