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Friday, 24 July 2009

Employers need to keep us informed as swine flu spreads, to stop NHS Wales from grinding to a halt

As swine flu continues to grip the UK, everyone is looking to the health of the public, which is of course only right. I think there is also though an urgent need to look at the implications for health staff and how services can be best managed to ensure they can cope with the demand. There is an enormous amount of planning and logistics going on behind the scenes to "keep the show on the road", but sometimes it is the practical matters that need to be clearly communicated - and that make all the difference. Some of the issues raised by BMA Members that need clarity and that we are raising with Welsh Assembly Government and employers include:

Medical rotas

I know that, while many medical rotas are EWTD compliant on paper, they rely on doctors’ good will to undertake additional duties for their effective operation. As such there is a real risk that these rotas will become inoperable due either to sickness among the doctors on the rota, or those doctors being redeployed to other duties. When (or hopefully in advance of) these rotas are on the point of falling apart, who makes the decision to either suspend their normal operation or combine them with other rotas or otherwise? Clarity is needed.

Routine clinics

Routine clinics may need to be cancelled, either from general population illness or patient reluctance to attend (particularly those clinics serving patients who may be immuno-compromised). How are medical staff to be redeployed, inevitably at short notice and for short periods, and who will make those decisions?

Reporting arrangements

The reporting arrangements (who to telephone, etc) when medical staff become symptomatic (and with whom to discuss their symptom severity) do not seem to be that well known, together with consequential advice on recommended absence periods before returning to work. How are employers communicating this message?

Medical staff in high-risk groups

Appropriate advice for medical staff who may be in high-risk groups (especially those who are pregnant) is as currently topical for them as for the general population. What steps are employers, through their occupational health services or otherwise, taking to risk-assess these members of staff and to deploy them to appropriate duties?

BMA Cymru has raised these issues and asked that they be addressed as a matter of urgency. We have also asked for confirmation that comprehensive guidance on all the above points as well as other key information is sent to all members of staff - and is consistent across all organisations in Wales. For medical staff, this must include GP contractors, all part-time and locum doctors, and medical students on clinical placement.

It is at times like this that everyone has to pull together, to ensure things run as smoothly as possible - but that will only happen when essential and often basic information is communicated in a timely, effective and consistent manner to those on the frontline - so that there is no confusion or time wasted over what exactly are the procedures to be followed. This will help NHS staff in Wales who do an outstanding job day to day, and pull out the stops further at times like this, to best protect themselves and so better serve the people of Wales.

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