Starting in January, Abu Dhabi's hospitals will be expected to follow uniform new practices in disaster management, under a policy set out by the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (HAAD). Until now each hospital has been expected only to develop its own plan for coping with a major emergency, and to file it with the authority.
The change will be a long step forward for the cause of public safety, and should be welcomed, especially because of a dramatic and tragic bit of timing: the new HAAD policy, as outlined in the news pages of The National today, follows last week's fatal fire at a private hospital in Kolkata. After 96 died in that disaster, investigators discovered that the hospital's sprinklers were not working and that staff had received no fire training, among other problems.
Planning to prevent such a horror has obvious value, and the steps Abu Dhabi is taking appear to be comprehensive.
Hospitals need to be prepared for two sorts of disaster: first a sudden event in the community which sends a flood of injured people into the emergency room, and second some problem, such as a fire, within the hospital itself. In the first case the challenge is to get those who need care into the hospital with rapid precision; in the second case patients may have to be moved out of the building, speedily but with regard for the special needs imposed by their individual medical conditions.
Either situation demands quick attention from staff, which means employees must know with certainty what to do. Training is a laborious process but without comprehensive and sustained teaching of the whole hospital workforce, an emergency plan is merely a sheaf of unread paper in a forgotten file folder on a dusty shelf.
So HAAD will have to follow up on its new policy with inspections and tests to make sure hospitals take disaster planning seriously. In some ways, the new uniform procedures will be very helpful: any medical or support staff member who moves from one hospital to another, for example, will not need to learn a whole new way of doing things.
A modern hospital system is a complicated machine with many moveable parts. To fine-tune its procedures for times when it is most needed, and to protect each part as much as possible against disaster, simply makes good sense.