Health systems are typically set up to operate under everyday circumstances, and when tested by disasters such as bushfires or pandemics, their capacity to cope can diminish rapidly.
This is especially true if the workforce doesn’t turn up for duty.
Among the current national research projects of the Disaster Nursing Research Program in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Flinders is an investigation of the factors affecting the willingness of nurses to work in emergency or disaster situations.
“Nurses are more cautious about attending events where they might be harmed, but more importantly where they might be quarantined, and might not be able to go home and care for their own dependents,” Professor Paul Arbon, the Dean of Nursing and Midwifery, said.
The Disaster Nursing Research Program has recently won accreditation by the International Council of Nurses, the world-wide association of national nursing bodies.
“There are only six accredited groups in the world in any topic area,” Professor Paul Arbons said.
Professor Arbon, who is also president-elect of the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine, said several other collaborative research projects are under way.
The Disaster Nursing Research Program is involved in another national study to assess the performance of accident and emergency departments when confronted with swine flu admissions during the recent outbreak.
And while some systems struggle to cope under stress, others may not even exist, Professor Arbon said. The Victorian bushfires last year, for instance, highlighted the problems associated with aged care facilities in areas susceptible to bushfires.
Professor Arbon said it had to be considered if it is even feasible to attempt the evacuation of high-care patients at short notice in the event of a bushfire.
“The licences of some aged care homes may have to be justified if their locations are considered difficult to defend,” Professor Arbon said.
Nursing and Midwifery researchers will also contribute to the University’s newly established multidisciplinary Research Centre for Disaster, Resilience and Health.
“The Centre has associates across nursing, medicine and social sciences,” Professor Arbon said.
“What we are hoping to do is connect up people who are doing research in society, community and public health around the idea of disaster.”
Professor Arbon said research at the Centre will feed into the new Torrens Resilience Institute, an association of the three South Australian universities and the UK’s Cranfield University.