Get ready for a major disaster, GPs told

20:37, Apr 15 2012

Family doctors are being urged to be prepared for mass casualties should a disaster cripple Wellington.

Under Capital & Coast District Health Board mass casualty guidelines, GPs are advised to open their surgeries to ease the pressure on Wellington Hospital if a major disaster, such as an earthquake, strikes.

Thirty surgeries in the region were supplied with kits to deal with major incidents, and medical staff were being told to help others once they have ensured their family is safe, clinical adviser of primary and integrated care Adrian Gilliland said. "You can't function properly as a health professional if you're not confident that your family is safe."

He was speaking to more than 170 doctors on Saturday at the Wakefield Health GP conference in Wellington on Capital & Coast's disaster preparation.

The Christchurch earthquake in February 2011 highlighted the need for GPs to treat patients with minor injuries, stress and anxiety, Dr Gilliland said. "We're expecting people to go to the surgery they would normally attend. The majority of victims [would] have minor injuries, the seriously injured should be brought to the hospital."

Pharmacies should also stay open where possible to ensure people can replace prescription medicines.

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Medical centre staff are advised to offer assistance at Wellington Hospital, which is expected to be overwhelmed.

The guidelines also alert GPs to the various risks which could spark mass casualties, such as acts of terrorism or transport accidents.

The overall risk of terrorism was low, but Wellington faced a "slightly higher risk" of attack than other parts of the country because of the range of targets in the city, including Parliament and embassies.

Hundreds of people could be injured in a ferry, train or plane accident, compared to thousands if an earthquake hits. There was a 90 per cent chance of a magnitude-7 earthquake occurring within 100 kilometres of Wellington in the next 50 years, the guidelines say.

The Dominion Post