Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 Influenza Outbreak in Australia: Impact on Emergency Departments.

FitzGerald, Gerard, Patrick, Jennifer R, Fielding, Elaine L, Shaban, Ramon Z., Arbon , Paul, Aitken, Peter, Considine, Julie, Clark, Michele J., Finucane, Julie, McCarthy, Sally M, Cloughessy, Liz, & Holzhauser, Kerri (2010) Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 Influenza Outbreak in Australia: Impact on Emergency Departments. QUT, Brisbane QLD Australia.


Executive summary Objective: The aims of this study were to identify the impact of Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 Influenza on Australian Emergency Departments (EDs) and their staff, and to inform planning, preparedness, and response management arrangements for future pandemics, as well as managing infectious patients presenting to EDs in everyday practice. Methods This study involved three elements: 1. The first element of the study was an examination of published material including published statistics. Standard literature research methods were used to identify relevant published articles. In addition, data about ED demand was obtained from Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) publications, with several state health departments providing more detailed data. 2. The second element of the study was a survey of Directors of Emergency Medicine identified with the assistance of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM). This survey retrieved data about demand for ED services and elicited qualitative comments on the impact of the pandemic on ED management. 3. The third element of the study was a survey of ED staff. A questionnaire was emailed to members of three professional colleges—the ACEM; the Australian College of Emergency Nursing (ACEN); and the College of Emergency Nursing Australasia (CENA). The overall response rate for the survey was 18.4%, with 618 usable responses from 3355 distributed questionnaires. Topics covered by the survey included ED conditions during the (H1N1) 2009 influenza pandemic; information received about Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 Influenza; pandemic plans; the impact of the pandemic on ED staff with respect to stress; illness prevention measures; support received from others in work role; staff and others’ illness during the pandemic; other factors causing ED staff to miss work during the pandemic; and vaccination against Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 Influenza. Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected and analysed. Results: The results obtained from Directors of Emergency Medicine quantifying the impact of the pandemic were too limited for interpretation. Data sourced from health departments and published sources demonstrated an increase in influenza-like illness (ILI) presentations of between one and a half and three times the normal level of presentations of ILIs. Directors of Emergency Medicine reported a reasonable level of preparation for the pandemic, with most reporting the use of pandemic plans that translated into relatively effective operational infection control responses. Directors reported a highly significant impact on EDs and their staff from the pandemic. Growth in demand and related ED congestion were highly significant factors causing distress within the departments. Most (64%) respondents established a ‘flu clinic’ either as part of Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 Influenza Outbreak in Australia: Impact on Emergency Departments. the ED operations or external to it. They did not note a significantly higher rate of sick leave than usual. Responses relating to the impact on staff were proportional to the size of the colleges. Most respondents felt strongly that Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 Influenza had a significant impact on demand in their ED, with most patients having low levels of clinical urgency. Most respondents felt that the pandemic had a negative impact on the care of other patients, and 94% revealed some increase in stress due to lack of space for patients, increased demand, and filling staff deficits. Levels of concern about themselves or their family members contracting the illness were less significant than expected. Nurses displayed significantly higher levels of stress overall, particularly in relation to skill-mix requirements, lack of supplies and equipment, and patient and patients’ family aggression. More than one-third of respondents became ill with an ILI. Whilst respondents themselves reported taking low levels of sick leave, respondents cited difficulties with replacing absent staff. Ranked from highest to lowest, respondents gained useful support from ED colleagues, ED administration, their hospital occupational health department, hospital administration, professional colleges, state health department, and their unions. Respondents were generally positive about the information they received overall; however, the volume of information was considered excessive and sometimes inconsistent. The media was criticised as scaremongering and sensationalist and as being the cause of many unnecessary presentations to EDs. Of concern to the investigators was that a large proportion (43%) of respondents did not know whether a pandemic plan existed for their department or hospital. A small number of staff reported being redeployed from their usual workplace for personal risk factors or operational reasons. As at the time of survey (29 October –18 December 2009), 26% of ED staff reported being vaccinated against Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 Influenza. Of those not vaccinated, half indicated they would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ not get vaccinated, with the main reasons being the vaccine was ‘rushed into production’, ‘not properly tested’, ‘came out too late’, or not needed due to prior infection or exposure, or due to the mildness of the disease. Conclusion: Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 Influenza had a significant impact on Australian Emergency Departments. The pandemic exposed problems in existing plans, particularly a lack of guidelines, general information overload, and confusion due to the lack of a single authoritative information source. Of concern was the high proportion of respondents who did not know if their hospital or department had a pandemic plan. Nationally, the pandemic communication strategy needs a detailed review, with more engagement with media networks to encourage responsible and consistent reporting. Also of concern was the low level of immunisation, and the low level of intention to accept vaccination. This is a problem seen in many previous studies relating to seasonal influenza and health care workers. The design of EDs needs to be addressed to better manage infectious patients. Significant workforce issues were confronted in this pandemic, including maintaining appropriate staffing levels; staff exposure to illness; access to, and appropriate use of, personal protective equipment (PPE); and the difficulties associated with working in PPE for prolonged periods. An administrative issue of note was the reporting requirement, which created considerable additional stress for staff within EDs. Peer and local support strategies helped ensure staff felt their needs were provided for, creating resilience, dependability, and stability in the ED workforce. Policies regarding the establishment of flu clinics need to be reviewed. The ability to create surge capacity within EDs by considering staffing, equipment, physical space, and stores is of primary importance for future pandemics.

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ID Code: 38003
Item Type: Report
Refereed: No
Keywords: Influenza, Pandemic, H1N1, Emergency Department, Disaster, Surge Capacity, Staff, Communication
ISBN: 978-1-74107-322-5
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > CLINICAL SCIENCES (110300)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > IMMUNOLOGY (110700)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > NURSING (111000)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTH SERVICES (111700)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Public Health & Social Work
Copyright Owner: © Copyright 2010 FitzGerald GJ, Patrick JR, Fielding EL, Shaban RZ, Arbon P, Aitken P, Considine J, Clark MJ, Finucane J, McCarthy SM, Cloughessy L, Holzhauser K. All rights reserved. Cover photograph © copyright 2010 Patrick JR.
Deposited On: 21 Oct 2010 23:23
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2011 17:22

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