Assurance over NHS trust's readiness for major incidents

Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital at Cramlington.Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital at Cramlington.
Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital at Cramlington.
Coping with mass-casualty incidents and preventing the abduction of babies are among the exercises carried out at hospitals in Northumberland and North Tyneside.

Emergency preparedness, resilience and response (EPRR) was one of the annual reports presented to the latest board meeting of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

The key points were that internal audit had provided good assurance while the trust could demonstrate substantial assurance on the core standards, but board members also heard examples of exercises carried out to ensure readiness.

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These included two ‘Pelican’ exercises – regional, whole-system (health and social care) mass-casualty rehearsals – which went well, it was explained.

Alison Bywater, Northumbria’s EPRR manager, said: “Our trust always plays 100 per cent properly and we try to make it no notice for staff.”

One of the non-executive directors, Peter Sanderson, reported that he went to see one of the Pelicans and that staff were taking it very seriously.

Another, Bernie McCardle, added: “Staff were very, very diligent.”

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The trust’s chief operating officer, Helen Ray, who is also accountable emergency officer, explained that they throw in a few curve-balls too.

During one exercise, they said that she was unavailable, given her experience with these type of events, and that one of the general managers had to step in and take the lead.

Last year’s efforts also led to a new training module being developed to help ensure that people are triaged as quickly as possible in a major incident.

The trust also carries out regular abduction drills, which see different people at different times and in different scenarios try to go into maternity units to see if they can gain access and, if so, check whether they are challenged as to why they are there.

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Another area of focus has been Britain’s leaving the EU, with both workshops and local or regional table-top exercises taking place.

Ms Bywater said that Brexit was at least a ‘really good opportunity to refresh our business continuity plans’.

There have also been table-top exercises during 2018-19 in relation to cyber-security breaches.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service