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IMO session hears of need for greater disaster and emergency planning

By David Lynch - 07th Jun 2022

medical response

The need for greater emergency planning at a national level in Ireland was raised at the recent IMO AGM. 

Speaking during a session on the medical response to armed conflict and displaced persons, Dr Gregory Ciottone, President of the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine, said: “We need to encourage people to plan for a rainy day when it’s a sunny day. When I teach disaster medicine, I say that this is the bane of our existence,” he told delegates. 

“I practised disaster medicine pre-9/11 and post-9/11 and it was like we were warning ‘the sky is falling; the sky is falling’ pre-9/11. Then the sky did fall. Suddenly everyone switched and then, in a very reactive way, we heightened our preparedness. Then that also, sort of, slowly went away. I think it’s human nature to be more reactive and we are not as proactive as much as we should be,” commented Dr Ciottone, who is an Emergency Physician. 

Dr Mick Molloy, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Wexford General Hospital, said that in Ireland “we’ve very limited emergency management functions across the State”. 

“We don’t really have disaster specialists in hospitals… I feel like I’ve been ‘Chicken Little’ for about 10 years talking about this. Saying ‘the sky is going to fall; the sky is going to fall’. But now we’ve had a two-year pandemic and now we have a mass refugee crisis [following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine]. These are coalescing factors at a time when the [Irish] health system is already under stress.” 

Dr Ciottone said there was an onus on doctors “as physicians and emergency managers” to plan for mass emergencies. 

He said the responsibility that a doctor has for an individual patient should be the same as at a community level when “a disaster happens”. 

“Whether it’s something in the Ukraine, whether it’s a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, whatever it is; everybody should know just a little bit about how to respond to a mass casualty [event],” he said. 

The Medical Independent recently reported that a mass casualty incident simulation for Dublin hospitals was due to take place in the third quarter of 2022. 

During the same session, Dr Fadi Issa, Director of Education at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, Boston Disaster Medicine Fellowship, outlined the experience of the Jordanian health service in regard to the large number of Syrian refugees who have arrived over the last decade. 

He emphasised the importance of providing primary care to refugees to prevent long-term chronic health issues developing in future years. 

Irish Medical Organisation, Annual General Meeting, Aviva Stadium, 28 May 2022.

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