Objective: To describe the reported impact of Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 on EDs, so as to inform future pandemic policy, planning and response management. Methods: This study comprised an issue and theme analysis of publicly accessible literature, data from jurisdictional health departments, and data obtained from two electronic surveys of ED directors and ED staff. The issues identified formed the basis of policy analysis and evaluation. Results: Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 had a significant impact on EDs with presentation for patients with 'influenza-like illness' up to three times that of the same time in previous years. Staff reported a range of issues, including poor awareness of pandemic plans, patient and family aggression, chaotic information flow to themselves and the public, heightened stress related to increased workloads and lower levels of staffing due to illness, family care duties and redeployment of staff to flu clinics. Staff identified considerable discomfort associated with prolonged times wearing personal protective equipment. Staff believed that the care of non-flu patients was compromised during the pandemic as a result of overwork, distraction from core business and the difficulties associated with accommodating infectious patients in an environment that was not conducive. Conclusions: This paper describes the breadth of the impact of pandemics on ED operations. It identifies a need to address a range of industrial, management and procedural issues. In particular, there is a need for a single authoritative source of information, the re-engineering of EDs to accommodate infectious patients and organizational changes to enable rapid deployment of alternative sources of care.
- Emergency department