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Healthcare workers less willing to volunteer in disease outbreak
28 September 2005

New York, USA: Researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health assessed the ability and willingness of staff in New York to report to work in emergencies.

Eighty-four per cent of the 6,000 surveyed were willing to report for duty after an environmental disaster.

But just 48 per cent said they would do the same during an outbreak of Sars, a serious respiratory virus.

Just over half - 57 per cnet - said they would work during a radiological event, and 61 per cent in the event of a smallpox epidemic.

But any disaster involving mass causalities, such as a transport accident, would see 86 per cent willing to work.

Where workers were unwilling to work, their greatest influence was fear for their own safety and that of their family members.

'Greater understanding'

The researchers say information on healthcare workers' ability and willingness to respond is invaluable to administrators, emergency planners and government agencies.

Kristine Qureshi, who led the research, said: "Although we might assume that healthcare employees have an obligation to respond to these high impact events, our findings indicate that personal obligations, as well as concerns for their own safety play a pivotal role in workers' willingness to report to work."

Robyn Gershon, associate professor of sociomedical sciences, at the Mailman School's National Center for Disaster Preparedness, who also worked on the study, added: "Employers must recognise that their healthcare workers are likely to be as concerned or even more concerned about their safety than the average citizen, because they have a greater understanding of the risks involved."

The research team say their findings are of practical importance because of the need to recognise a full workforce might not be available in such circumstances.

"If adequate numbers of staff members do not report to work, it could result in a situation where hospitals are unable to meet needs."

Dr Qureshi added: "In terms of addressing workers fears, and therefore, their willingness to work, healthcare administrators should talk to their workers about their concerns regarding exposure and contagion, and, importantly, reassure them by describing in detail all of the steps the facility is planning to take to assure their safety."