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District health boards faced challenges prior to Christchurch quakes

The Clocktowers clock

Friday 15 March 2013 9:04am

Before the Christchurch earthquakes, emergency preparedness at district health board-level in New Zealand faced challenges that they needed to overcome, suggests a University of Otago study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today.

However, the study – the first to address the issue of strategic healthcare emergency preparedness in New Zealand - found that disaster preparedness was adequate to deal with a major emergency– as occurred in Christchurch.

The interview-based study of emergency planners at 16 District Health Boards specifically investigated healthcare disaster preparedness before the Canterbury earthquakes happened, between January and March 2010.  Five DHBs declined to be involved in the study.

Lead author, University of Otago medical and PhD student Sultan Al-Shaqsi, says emergency planners highlighted several issues that concerned them, or that they felt could improve disaster preparedness.

These included the perception that clinical personnel were disinterested in emergency planning, the need for communication backup if emergency communication systems failed and the insufficient recognition given to the likely value of volunteers who tend to turn out in big numbers following major disasters such as the Christchurch earthquakes and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The researchers, also including Mr Al-Shaqsi’s supervisors Associate Professor David McBride and Professor Robin Gauld of Otago’s Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, concluded that despite these challenges which existed prior to the Christchurch earthquakes, New Zealand’s healthcare preparedness was probably adequate a year out from the disaster.

Several of the challenges presented in the study were also reflected in an earlier review of the initial response to the February 2011 Canterbury earthquake, undertaken by Professor Mike Ardagh and colleagues at the University of Otago, Christchurch.

“For example, they identified that backup systems for life-line services such as water, communication and electricity were significant challenges during the initial response,” says Mr Al-Shaqsi.

“They also emphasised the need for integrated planning of hospital and community based healthcare facilities to ensure that the appropriate response to the influx of injured people is unified, and also they found that management of volunteering was a challenge during the initial response.”

The study concludes: “Prior to the Canterbury earthquakes, healthcare disaster preparedness faced multiple challenges. Despite these challenges, New Zealand’s healthcare response was adequate. Future preparedness has to take lessons learnt from the 2011 earthquakes to improve healthcare disaster planning in New Zealand.”

For more information, contact:

Associate Professor David McBride
Department of Preventive and Social Medicine
University of Otago
Tel 03 4797208

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