Earlier this year, HSJ tried to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain details of exercises held in every region to test emergency planning preparations. But the request was rejected by the Department of Health in order to “safeguard national security”.
However, NHS Midlands and East has published findings from a similar exercise carried out by its primary care trust clusters in October. The exercise assessed the clusters’ ability to respond to “mass casualty incidents”, power failures, severe weather, pandemics and – aptly – strikes.
While there was good evidence that clusters had appointed emergency planning leads, their arrangements for calling on expert advice and mobilising resources were less successful, according to the report. Evacuation plans were patchy, although the East of England fared best.
The extent to which clusters were scrutinising providers’ emergency plans was “unclear” and there was an “over-reliance” on other agencies and a “lack of ownership”.
Which bodies did the clusters think were in charge of emergency planning? Strategic health authorities, it seems. There was “little or no evidence” to suggest PCT clusters were talking to their neighbours about how they would help each other out in the event of a disaster, the “assumption” being that SHAs would enable this.
Here’s hoping, then, the next plague doesn’t break out after April 2013. Or during the Olympics, as the clusters’ ability to provide business as usual during this time is flagged as an “issue of concern”.
Overall, emergency planning principles were taken up and are being developed. Lest they grow complacent, “confirm/challenge” interviews will more closely consider the evidence.