Jersey should set up the health equivalent of the reserve system used in the armed forces to prepare itself for a future pandemic or other crisis, a major review has concluded.
Developing a pool of health “reservists” was among the recommendations contained in the Government's recently-released Health Protection Review, which examined the findings of other significant reviews into the island's pandemic response.
Other features of the review include a range of measures to make the response to emergencies more joined-up, better governance for bodies such as the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell and the updating of the island's 90-year-old Public Health Law.
Director of Public Health Peter Bradley said: “There have been a number of unfortunate incidents in the past year, as well as covid, and we want to learn from all of those and think about how we can strengthen our plans for the future.”
As Jersey went into lockdown in March 2020, the then-Health Minister Richard Renouf put out an urgent call for recently retired medical workers – ranging from nurses, doctors and dentists to care workers, pharmacists and pathology staff – to temporarily return to the profession.
Those that stepped forward were deployed to work with patients directly in the temporary Urgent Treatment Centre and wider hospital, as well as supporting the contact tracing and covid helpline teams.
Pictured: Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf issued a call for retired health professionals to come back to work to support the island's covid response in March 2020.
“People showed they were only too willing to help, however the review suggested it would be beneficial to identify a group with important skills who could be trained and would be able to be deployed in the future if necessary,” Professor Bradley said.
During the covid crisis, criticism was levelled at Ministers for failing to publish minutes of key decision-making meetings in a timely manner – or sometimes declining to share them with the public at all.
The review said that “appropriate governance” around health protection meetings, including STAC, should include records and minutes of meetings should provide a complete audit trail, including how advice given was determined.
Future winter strategies, including vaccination programmes, should be mapped out in a more structured fashion, the review recommended.
Professor Bradley said the intention was to identify which vaccines would be administered in a public health context – similar to the way islanders were given covid jabs – and which were more appropriately delivered by GPs.
There was also a recognition, referred to in the review, that Jersey's covid response was over-reliant on a small number of senior health officials, such as the former deputy medical officer of health Dr Ivan Muscat, who retired earlier this year.
“It's recognised that Dr Muscat did a fantastic job,” Professor Bradley said.
Listen: Dr Ivan Muscat spoke about his experience of leading the island's pandemic response on the Bailiwick Podcast shortly before he retired.
“One item of learning was that we need to think about having more people available to support. These incidents can go on for a long time and senior people need to be able to have a break – that's something that was found in lots of jurisdictions, not just in Jersey.”
A Crisis Resilience Improvement Plan has also been published alongside the Health Protection Review.
Home Affairs Minister Helen Miles said: “The Crisis Resilience Improvement Plan is a multifaceted approach designed to learn from our experiences and enhance our preparedness for future.
“We have responded to the recommendations of the Independent Covid-19 Review, and identified key areas where improvements are needed to ensure our resilience, reinforce our emergency response capabilities and enhance our crisis communication strategies.”
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