Protecting front-line healthcare services

Author: @SarahASmith75

As the situation with COVID-19 continues to develop, this is putting a strain on the availability and continuity of healthcare services.

Whilst it is generally accepted that social-distancing can slow the velocity of infection; the number of cases is set to rise over the coming weeks and months. Those most at risk are elderly and/or have underlying medical conditions. Healthcare professionals in regular contact with suspected and actual cases also increases the likelihood of them becoming ill and needing to self-isolate.

This increased demand and shortage of resources can lead to secondary incidents and failures, particularly with the availability of buildings, facilities and IT services.

So what can healthcare services do to protect themselves from the potential impact of COVID-19?

From a business continuity perspective, we will consider 3 key scenarios:

  1. Availability of buildings and facilities
  2. Availability of key IT systems
  3. Availability of key people
  1. Availability of buildings and facilities

As the number of people requiring treatment and hospitalisation rises, so does the demand for specialist buildings and facilities.

Intensive care facilities and ventilators require round-the-clock availability of power, which increases the potential for failure.

In addition, people in hospital for other reasons may need to be segregated to reduce their likelihood of exposure.

Things to consider:

  • Resilience of buildings to utilities failure
  • Testing of on-site and mobile generators 
  • Diesel storage for generators
  • Turning off non-essential services to reduce load
  • Physical separation and zoning of areas 
  • Increased cleaning and waste disposal to reduce secondary infection vectors
  • Use of hotels for staff and non-critical patients
  • Use of portable cabins or marquees for triage
  • Use of mobile catering units 

2.     Availability of key IT services

Not only is access to IT systems and data required for managing patients, it is also needed for reporting and modelling.

In crisis situations, IT systems and data are at risk from cyberattacks and data breaches as criminals look to exploit the situation or cause further disruptions.

Things to consider:

  • Ability to flex capacity and performance to meet demand
  • Proactive monitoring and system checks
  • Regular backups of systems and data
  • Security and awareness training
  • Ability to failover IT services in the event of failure or corruption
  • Ability to shut down non-essential services
  • Manual workarounds if key IT services not available
  • Use of third parties to provide additional IT support 

3.     Availability of key people

This goes beyond medical and care professionals and extends to ancillary staff to support the buildings, facilities and IT services.

When managing a crisis, people tend to work longer hours to deal with demand, but this can often be counter-productive due to fatigue and susceptibility to illness. 

Things to consider:

  • Prioritise essential and critical services
  • Perform key skills gap analysis
  • Perform additional training and awareness
  • Enforce strict breaks and rotation of shifts
  • Assess transport needs for staff and patients
  • Request additional support from private sector:
    • First aiders
    • Health and safety professionals
    • Security guards
    • IT professionals
    • Catering
    • Laboratory technicians
    • Child carers and teachers
    • Drivers

Vast numbers of people are being affected by COVID-19, either directly or indirectly.  It is vital to protect front-line healthcare services from buildings, facilities and IT failures, to ensure people can get access to the care and support they need. 

By working together, we can enable the continuity and availability of these essential services.

Thanks to @SarahASmith75 for creating this great post! We will be working out a wider process for volunteer submissions in the near future; in the meantime, please contact @UK_Daniel_Card or @LisaForteUK.