The difficulties hospitals face in dealing with major incidents may partly stem from staff stress, according to research by Anglia Ruskin University.
After examining several studies from around the world, researchers noticed that heavy workloads and challenging targets resulted in high stress levels among employees, limiting their capacity to deal with disasters such as earthquakes or floods.
The findings suggest that clinicians feel disengaged from their workplace and lack motivation, making them less likely to take initiative in a crisis, and possibly even avoid going into work altogether. Only 21 per cent of participants reported feeling completely satisfied with their jobs and workplace.
Dr Nebil Achour, lead author and senior lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, says: “Healthcare services in many countries are under severe strain, which leaves little opportunity for staff to be trained in disaster resilience. Yet healthcare is among the most critical services in any country during and after a major incident has occurred.
“Staff suffer from increasing workload and stricter performance measures with less flexibility. This has caused psychological and physical stress and makes them unable to respond to any further stress associated with major hazards.
“Many employees do not feel attached to their workplace and do not feel that they have enough flexibility to take the initiative and lead their own way. This also makes them less motivated to learn the extra skills needed to deal with a catastrophic event.
“Combined, these factors expose healthcare services to a major risk of staff shortage and thus inoperability when a major hazard does strike.”
The study cited the NHS’s work to improve staff health and wellbeing as an example of good practice.