Hospital morale vital during any outbreak: expert warns

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Hospitals must prepare their staff for the trauma from an outbreak of bird flu, a medical expert advised today. If not, they risk the collapse not only of services but also of morale at a time when they most need both.

Charles Gomersall, the director of intensive care at Hong Kong's Princess Margaret Hospital, told a symposium on bird flu that he "predicts will have few staff two weeks into an epidemic if do not have mechanisms in place to minimize the stress and effect on morale."

He said hospitals need to offer staff counseling and daily briefings in order to manage the stress.

H5N1 avian flu virus has mostly affected birds, but at least 88 people in seven countries have died since the re-emergence of the virus late 2003.

There is no evidence yet that the virus has mutated to point where humans can pass it on, but experts predict millions could die if it does.

Gomersall insists hospitals need properly equipped facilities and trained staff now. Once an epidemic starts there is only a very short time between when symptoms present and admission to intensive care.