Australian hospitals must plan for the possibility that crucial infrastructure such as power and telephones may fail in the event of an influenza pandemic, biosecurity and health specialists have warned in the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.
In a special influenza pandemic supplement, Mr Ralf Itzwerth, a medical sociologist from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance of Vaccine Preventable Diseases, and Professor Raina MacIntyre, an influenza expert from the University of Sydney, said it is unclear how many hospitals have drawn up detailed and comprehensive plans for pandemic or disaster management.
Mr Itzwerth and colleagues have put together a checklist of factors that hospitals should consider in planning for an influenza pandemic.
"Pandemic planning for hospitals and the health sector needs to consider not only health-related strategies, but also the broader systems upon which hospitals depend - both inside and outside the health system," Mr Itzwerth said.
"Securing critical infrastructure is an overarching requirement for all hospitals, and requires a whole-of-government approach."
While it is obviously important to plan for back-up medical staff in the event of a pandemic, Mr Itzwerth said 'back office' operations and external services are equally critical to maintaining continuity of service.
"Essential infrastructure services outside hospitals may become unavailable or get disrupted," he said.
"These include power, telephones, mobile phones, email and paging services, water, and garbage removal.
"For a hospital, supplies of food, pharmaceutical products, medical gases and other consumables would have to be added to the 'essential' list."
Hospital staff working in pay offices, human resources, IT and building management also keep hospitals running, he said.
"It is hardly conceivable that a complex and sensitive structure like a hospital, at a time when it is overburdened with a surge of critically ill patients, could maintain any of its core functions without some or all of the infrastructure services," he said.