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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Surgeons push for stronger response

Surgeons push for stronger response

Last updated 05:00 10/04/2011
The Christchurch earthquake is likely to lead to an emergency response plan being put in place, to ensure there is an adequate supply of trauma surgeons to cope with mass casualty incidents.

Christchurch trauma surgeon Andrew Vincent has been briefing members of the New Zealand Orthopaedic Surgeons' Association (NZOSA) on the response to the Christchurch quake, and is now pushing for the organisation to adopt a formal emergency response plan so that it is better prepared to handle large-scale emergencies.

Vincent, who spent the first three days after the magnitude 6.3 quake struck working 12-hour days operating on patients with broken bones and crushed limbs, told the Sunday Star-Times the ad-hoc arrangements reached in the days after the quake had worked well, but a more structured approach should be adopted.

"We need to have a clearer plan of how we are going to respond... if and when this sort of thing happens again," Vincent said. "What we did worked well but it was very ad-hoc."

The key to successfully handling mass casualty events was having teams of surgeons, who were used to working with each other, able to come in and take over from the surgeons on the ground.

"Those first three days after the quake, we were running five operating theatres. Each theatre had two surgeons in it and, by the Friday, we were pretty shattered," Vincent admitted. They were relieved by a team of seven surgeons from Wellington that first weekend, which had given them time to rest and to look after their own families.

Vincent said while around 90% of the surgical cases handled after the quake involved routine work, such as fixing broken hips, wrists and shoulders, the volume of patients was unprecedented.

The toughest, most challenging cases were those involving young people with severe crush injuries, some of whom ended up having their limbs amputated.

Vincent said the Christchurch experience had raised some important issues about how the medical profession responds to mass casualty events, and he was certain that some changes would occur.

"Certainly the orthopaedic association is keen to have some better plans about how to manage a disaster, not just in New Zealand, but around the South Pacific, so that next time we handle it even better."

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