Health and Aged Care

Health system planning and preparedness

Ambulance

The current outbreak of COVID-19 is causing considerable distress around the world. It is challenging the range and scope of health services and is demonstrating the clinical, social and economic costs that pandemics can have on the community. This pandemic comes on top of a very troubled summer in Australia characterised by prolonged drought and culminating in extensive heat waves and bushfires.

A number of key challenges have emerged for health managers and clinical service providers relating to the way in which health services, including public health services, can build their resilience, and surge in response to major challenges such as COVID-19.

Even in Australia, where we have been spared the extensive community-wide transmission that has occurred in the US, UK, Italy and Spain, we have seen a health system challenged by issues of supply of consumables including personal protective equipment and the health system impacts of social distancing measures. We have seen widespread absenteeism as health workers who have any infectious disease are being excluded from the workplace. We are also seeing considerable community-wide effort being poured into the development of production capacity in Australia for such things as ventilators and personal protective equipment, as the worldwide epidemic and cessation of international travel has challenged the health system supply chains.

These challenges have caused considerable distress within the health system and within the community more generally.

It will be necessary in the future to ensure that the lessons learned from these events are captured and translated into policies and plans and into the building of health system resilience.

Effective response to major incidents and disasters such as this requires individuals who can help their organisations and the community prepare, respond and recover. This will require individuals who have an in-depth understanding of the principles and practice of health system preparedness and will be better placed to assist the health system in general, and health services in particular, to be better prepared in the future. Plans will need to be reviewed and long-standing management assumptions challenged.

The upcoming Disaster Planning and Preparedness program is designed to help those involved in the planning and preparedness of health services for major events such as pandemics to assist those services to be more resilient and better prepared for the challenges they confront.

The course takes participants through the principles and processes of planning and the other preparedness measures required by organisations and by the community. It then uses a series of complex events such as pandemics, to identify how these principles may be applied to practice.

Upon completion of this course, you should be better equipped to prepare for major incidents. You should also be able to advise on policy and formal disaster plans and play a major role in their development.

Find out more about the program and enrol at QUTeX.

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Professor Gerry FitzGerald is Professor Emeritus on the School of Public Health and Social Work at QUT. He holds medical specialist qualifications in Emergency Medicine and Medical Administration and a Doctor of Medicine. Gerry was previously the Director of the Emergency Department at Ipswich Hospital and one of the founders of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine. He served four years as national secretary and four years as Editor in Chief of the College journal. He was subsequently Medical Director and then Commissioner of the Qld Ambulance Service and Chief Health Officer for Qld. Since joining QUT, Gerry has led the development of the health management and disaster management programs. His research interests focus on the way in which emergency health services function under the routine challenges from a growing and ageing population and the non-routine challenges associated with disasters including those related to global warming.

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