MERS threat is no match for HA teamwork
As the shadow cast by Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in recent months begins to fade, Hong Kong has stood down its response level from ‘serious’ to ‘alert’. Although no confirmed MERS cases were reported in Hong Kong during the past few months, the Hospital Authority was well prepared to handle any outbreak and remains vigilant with respect to future threats.
Dr Derrick Au, Director (Quality & Safety), tells HASLink how frontline and back office staff worked in a coordinated effort to defend against MERS. He also shares some lessons learned for the future.
“HA had gained experience in previous battles against deadly viruses, and we were therefore able to mount a fast and effective defence with respect to the risks posed by the MERS outbreak in Korea,” Dr Au explains. “From convening meetings to discuss operational issues and decide on implementation plans, to communicating important information to staff members and the public, it was extremely well-coordinated and efficient.”
Dr Au quotes the example of HA senior management convening meetings shortly after news of the Korean outbreak was released to discuss risk assessment, case-reporting criteria, case notification procedure and enhanced infection control measures. “To minimise infection risk, we immediately suspended HA’s medical exchange activities with Korea,” he says. “At the same time, frontline staff were tasked with implementing relevant measures.”
Following the issue of travel alert by the government, the number of suspected cases has dropped correspondingly which has obviously alleviated the workload of frontline staff so that they can place more attention to patients.
With an awareness of the concerns that the MERS threat was generating in members of the general public, HA worked with the government in accordance with the established response mechanism to activate the ‘Serious Response Level’ (S2), when the first suspected MERS case stopped over Hong Kong en route to Mainland China.
HA was aware that its responsibilities to staff extended beyond ensuring frontline colleagues were well equipped – back-office and non-clinical staff also needed to be reassured that their health was being protected. Chief Executive PY Leung proposed that a dedicated team be formed to strengthen infection controls at HA Head Office. The Head Office Infection Control Team has been established with Dr Rebecca Lam, Chief Manager (Patient Safety and Risk Management) as its head. She is now collecting relevant information from various departments and will come up with a detail plan later on.
All frontline and non-clinical staff made remarkable efforts in fighting against the MERS threat. Frontline colleagues used the e-MERS system to report suspected cases in a timely manner and collected nasopharyngeal aspirate specimens which were sent for analysis to the Public Health Laboratory Services Branch of the Centre for Health Protection. Behind the scenes, IT colleagues ensured that the e-MERS system facilitated the smooth and efficient flow of important information. The Duty Officer of the Head Office Major Incident Control Centre compiled a daily situation report and sent out via e-mail, which provided the latest numbers and other relevant news on suspected cases. The Cluster Human Resources Departments immediately contacted staff who were on clinical attachment programmes or attending healthcare conferences in Korea to ensure they were kept fully informed of the latest developments. These are just a few of the many examples of the good teamwork that occurred across various HA departments as colleagues stepped up to defend the people of Hong Kong against the serious health risk posed by MERS.
“HA is grateful for the concerted efforts of all colleagues in defending the public against the MERS threat,” says Dr Au. “Serious threats and emergencies such as these put extra pressure and workload on staff, but our colleagues have once again shown themselves to be dedicated and tireless in their determination to help people stay healthy.”