Chemical disaster simulation prepares Westmead Hospital emergency staff

A critical situation. Dangerous substances.  A lifesaving process.

Chemical disaster training is a vital education tool taught to emergency healthcare workers and Westmead Hospital emergency department staff are ready if ever needed.

Last week, our ED staff along with other first responders took part in the training to simulate patients being exposed to harmful chemicals.

‘Exercise Nyos’, Westmead’s annual chemical disaster training run by Emergency Medicine Specialist Dr Kavita Varshney is a critical component in staff education and patient care.

“Many patients who are brought to the emergency department due to chemical exposure may be unconscious, or unable to walk and highly contaminated,” Dr Kavita Varshney reflected.

“80 per cent of the chemicals are often on their clothes or in the hair, so it is important to remove these items and shower them immediately.

“The slightest contact can cause contamination. Our staff must be fully covered in PPE to eliminate their risk of exposure.”

Westmead Hospital is Sydney’s mass decontamination facility and the first response hospital for patients exposed to harmful chemicals.

Although not often used, staff must keep up to date on the latest procedures and equipment in case disaster ever were to strike.

“This training is always important, but even more so this year due to the relocation of the emergency department to the new Central Acute Services Building,” Kavita said.

“We have brand new decontamination equipment, including new showers that we must familiarise ourselves with so we can respond quickly and efficiently in the face of disaster.

“From the slightest chemical exposure to a mass contamination, Westmead Hospital is prepared to cover it if such a tragedy ever occurs.”

NSW Ambulance, NSW Fire and Rescue, the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and other emergency response teams also took part in the exercise as they familiarised themselves with the equipment and processes of a chemical disaster response.

Training included working through the notification processes, setting up the decontamination area and staff and services roles and responsibilities.

Time is crucial. The quicker are notified, the quicker we can respond, and the more set up and prepared we will be.” Kavita said.

Staff also went through simulation exercises with pretend patients in order to practice the necessary skills in real-time scenarios.

“Having mannequins to simulate both adult and children ‘patients’ allowed us to run through a wide range of situations with the involvement of a range of departments.

“It was great to see staff from a range of facilities working together and using the PPE and the showers. It instilled a lot of confidence in me that we will be able to respond adequately should we need to.”

The decontamination facility at Westmead Hospital was first set up in 1998 to prepare for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

“You never know what could happen but Westmead was prepared then and still is prepared now,” Kavita said.

“A special thanks to all who were involved. Without each team doing their part, an adequate chemical disaster response would not be possible.”