Health authorities publish plans for ‘major incident’ in Essex

With fears that Brexit will bring social unrest, climate change will result in environmental disasters and cyber-attacks capable of crippling entire towns, health authorities in Essex are reviewing their emergency response plans.

Board papers published ahead of a Thurrock clinical commissioning group (CCG) meeting show that health professionals will discuss a plan that outlines their response in the event of a major traffic incident, a cyber-attack or even a nuclear disaster.

The plan will also be adopted by CCGs in Southend and Castle Point among others, all of which would be made the lead coordinator for “command and control” should an incident occur in their local area.

The papers explain: “The NHS needs to plan for, and respond to, a wide range of incidents and emergencies that could affect health or patient care.

“These could be anything from extreme weather conditions to an outbreak of an infectious disease or a major transport accident or a terrorist act.

“The Civil Contingencies Act (2004) requires NHS organisations, and providers of NHS-funded care, to show that they can deal with such incidents while maintaining services to patients.”

While major incidents are rare, they are not unheard of. In July, the 12 people died in an outbreak of a rare bacterial infection that spread across Essex, starting in Braintree before spreading to Chelmsford and Maldon.

In 2017, the NHS was also hit with a major cyber-attack which locked files and encrypted them, making them inaccessible unless a ransom was paid. The attack left staff having to use pen and paper and their own phones after the attack even managed to take down hospital telephones.

Challenges the authorities could face in the future include fears of civil unrest or violence over Brexit, climate disasters and the growth of more sophisticated hacking tools.

Should such an event occur the CCGs will initiate an incident response team that will create a coordination centre located at a number of possible locations, ranging from Thurrock’s Civic offices in Grays, Wren House in Chelmsford, Phoenix Court in Basildon or Pearle House in Rayleigh.

From these centres the plans outline how the response team will oversee health resources to ensure they are made available, manage communications with the public and put together a plan for how things can go back to normal once the incident has been dealt with.

Ahead of the plan’s publication, CCGs across Essex were audited and were all found to be in an “ideal state” for dealing with an emergency.

A spokesman for Thurrock CCG said: “The NHS is there to help the public when they need it most, this is especially true during an incident or emergency. Extensive evidence shows that good planning and preparation for any incident saves lives and expedites recovery.

“All NHS funded services must therefore ensure they have robust and well tested arrangements in place to respond to and recover from these situations.

They added: “CCGs are critical in supporting our system to coordinate an incident response.”

The Thurrock CCG board meeting will be held on Wednesday.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter