Christchurch earthquake - healthcare workers show skill and professionalism

18 Mar 2011 | Adverse Events

The Health Quality & Safety Commission notes with deep respect the skill and dedication of the health professionals who dropped everything to provide a quality emergency response in the wake of Canterbury’s devastating February 22 earthquake. This is what quality in healthcare really means – doing the right thing when it really matters.

Doctors, nurses and other health professionals from around New Zealand offered front line clinical assistance following the magnitude 6.3 quake.


The Commission’s Chair, Professor Alan Merry, says the earthquake created conditions that are completely outside normal expectations for operating healthcare services in New Zealand.

"There were examples that have already been noted elsewhere of extraordinary performance and great personal courage. Perhaps the most obvious is that of a visiting Australian urologist who was in Christchurch for a urology conference, working with a Christchurch anaesthetist and the Fire Service, to provide immediate assistance to a man trapped by a beam in the collapsed Pyne Gould Corporation building.

"After conferring, the decision was made that the only way to free this man was to amputate his legs. Under these horrific conditions, full general anaesthesia was administered, keeping this patient completely unconscious but safe, while the two clinicians together amputated the man’s legs. The man has survived."

Professor Merry says, in the two days following the earthquake, 18 Canterbury regional orthopaedic surgeons worked around the clock across six operating theatres to operate on people with broken limbs. At the weekend, teams of orthopaedic surgeons from District Health Boards around New Zealand arrived in Christchurch to assist.

"In the week following the quake 100 orthopaedic procedures were performed, at the highest level, by our most experienced and skilled specialists. There were many offers of support from anaesthesia services around New Zealand, but the Christchurch anaesthesia services were able to redeploy their specialist doctors from cancelled elective work to provide these anaesthetics themselves – again at the highest level.

"The ability and willingness of our doctors, nurses and support staff to pull together across the artificial boundaries of public and private and different health boards is a fantastic example of what a high quality health service should be like.

"In the same way, and largely unseen, the Ministry of Health has redeployed staff to coordinate the ongoing response, dealing amongst other things with public health challenges that really belong two hundred years in our past. They too have worked long hours and in difficult conditions."

Professor Merry says these are examples of frontline clinicians, and those that are responsible for supporting them, putting the patient first, demonstrating teamwork, and working in a coordinated, collaborative way to deliver the care needed.

"These are the hallmarks of quality in healthcare. In the months to come it is likely that we will need to continue to provide support in this way – clearly all of New Zealand's health and disability providers will want to contribute to sharing the burden that lies ahead."

Last updated 19/01/2012