Human resources issues and Australian disaster medical assistance teams: results of a national survey of team members

Aitken, Peter, Leggat, Peter, Harley, Hazel, Speare, Richard, and Leclercq, Muriel (2012) Human resources issues and Australian disaster medical assistance teams: results of a national survey of team members. Emerging Health Threats Journal, 5. 18147. pp. 1-7.

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Background: Calls for disaster medical assistance teams (DMATs) are likely to continue in response to international disasters. As part of a national survey, this study was designed to evaluate Australian DMAT experience in relation to the human resources issues associated with deployment.

Methods: Data was collected via an anonymous mailed survey distributed via State and Territory representatives on the Australian Health Protection Committee, who identified team members associated with Australian DMAT deployments from the 2004 South East Asian Tsunami disaster.

Results: The response rate for this survey was 50% (59/118). Most personnel had deployed to the Asian Tsunami affected areas with DMAT members having significant clinical and international experience. While all except one respondent stated they received a full orientation prior to deployment, only 34% of respondents (20/59) felt their role was clearly defined pre deployment. Approximately 56% (33/59) felt their actual role matched their intended role and that their clinical background was well suited to their tasks. Most respondents were prepared to be available for deployment for 1 month (34%, 20/59). The most common period of notice needed to deploy was 6–12 hours for 29% (17/59) followed by 12–24 hours for 24% (14/59). The preferred period of overseas deployment was 14–21 days (46%, 27/59) followed by 1 month (25%, 15/59) and the optimum shift period was felt to be 12 hours by 66% (39/59). The majority felt that there was both adequate pay (71%, 42/59) and adequate indemnity (66%, 39/59). Almost half (49%, 29/59) stated it was better to work with people from the same hospital and, while most felt their deployment could be easily covered by staff from their workplace (56%, 33/59) and caused an inconvenience to their colleagues (51%, 30/59), it was less likely to interrupt service delivery in their workplace (10%, 6/59) or cause an inconvenience to patients (9%, 5/59). Deployment was felt to benefit the affected community by nearly all (95%, 56/59) while less (42%, 25/59) felt that there was a benefit for their own local community. Nearly all felt their role was recognised on return (93%, 55/59) and an identical number (93%, 55/59) enjoyed the experience. All stated they would volunteer again, with 88% strongly agreeing with this statement.

Conclusions: This study of Australian DMAT members provides significant insights into a number of human resources issues and should help guide future deployments. The preferred 'on call' arrangements, notice to deploy, period of overseas deployment and shift length are all identified. This extended period of operations needs to be supported by planning and provision of rest cycles, food, temporary accommodation and rest areas for staff. The study also suggests that more emphasis should be placed on team selection and clarification of roles. While the majority felt that there was both adequate pay and adequate indemnity, further work clarifying this, based on national conditions of service should be, and are, being explored currently by the state based teams in Australia. Importantly, the deployment was viewed positively by team members who all stated they would volunteer again, which allows the development of an experienced cohort of team members.

Item ID: 25314
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1752-8550
Keywords: disaster; medical assistance; Australia; Southeast Asia; human resources; indemnity; deployment conditions; disaster medical assistance teams
Date Deposited: 07 Mar 2013 05:52
FoR Codes: 11 MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES > 1117 Public Health and Health Services > 111799 Public Health and Health Services not elsewhere classified @ 50%
11 MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES > 1199 Other Medical and Health Sciences > 119999 Medical and Health Sciences not elsewhere classified @ 50%
SEO Codes: 92 HEALTH > 9202 Health and Support Services > 920299 Health and Support Services not elsewhere classified @ 50%
92 HEALTH > 9204 Public Health (excl. Specific Population Health) > 920499 Public Health (excl. Specific Population Health) not elsewhere classified @ 50%
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