Effect of hospital staff surge capacity on preparedness for a conventional mass casualty event

West J Emerg Med. 2010 May;11(2):189-96.


Objectives: To assess current medical staffing levels within the Hospital Referral System in the City of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality, South Africa, and analyze the surge capacity needs to prepare for the potential of a conventional mass casualty incident during a planned mass gathering.

Methods: Query of all available medical databases of both state employees and private medical personnel within the greater Cape Town area to determine current staffing levels and distribution of personnel across public and private domains. Analysis of the adequacy of available staff to manage a mass casualty incident.

Results: There are 594 advanced pre-hospital personnel in Cape Town (17/100,000 population) and 142 basic pre-hospital personnel (4.6/100,000). The total number of hospital and clinic-based medical practitioners is 3097 (88.6/100,000), consisting of 1914 general physicians; 54.7/100,000 and 1183 specialist physicians; 33.8/100,000. Vacancy rates for all medical practitioners range from 23.5% to 25.5%. This includes: nursing post vacancies (26%), basic emergency care practitioners (39.3%), advanced emergency care personnel (66.8%), pharmacy assistants (42.6%), and pharmacists (33.1%).

Conclusion: There are sufficient numbers and types of personnel to provide the expected ordinary healthcare needs at mass gathering sites in Cape Town; however, qualified staff are likely insufficient to manage a concurrent mass casualty event. Considering that adequate correctly skilled and trained staff form the backbone of disaster surge capacity, it appears that Cape Town is currently under resourced to manage a mass casualty event. With the increasing size and frequency of mass gathering events worldwide, adequate disaster surge capacity is an issue of global relevance.