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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Preparedness of emergency departments in northwest England for managing chemical incidents: a structured interview survey

Jane Williams, Darren Walter and Kirsty Challen*

Author Affiliations

Emergency Department, University Hospital of South Manchester, Manchester, UK

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BMC Emergency Medicine 2007, 7:20  doi:10.1186/1471-227X-7-20

Published: 20 December 2007



A number of significant chemical incidents occur in the UK each year and may require Emergency Departments (EDs) to receive and manage contaminated casualties. Previously UK EDs have been found to be under-prepared for this, but since October 2005 acute hospital Trusts have had a statutory responsibility to maintain decontamination capacity. We aimed to evaluate the level of preparedness of Emergency Departments in North West England for managing chemical incidents.


A face-to-face semi-structured interview was carried out with the Nurse Manager or a nominated deputy in all 18 Emergency Departments in the Region.


16/18 departments had a written chemical incident plan but only 7 had the plan available at interview. All had a designated decontamination area but only 11 felt that they were adequately equipped. 12/18 had a current training programme for chemical incident management and 3 had no staff trained in decontamination. 13/18 could contain contaminated water from casualty decontamination and 6 could provide shelter for casualties before decontamination.


We have identified major inconsistencies in the preparedness of North West Emergency Departments for managing chemical incidents. Nationally recognized standards on incident planning, facilities, equipment and procedures need to be agreed and implemented with adequate resources. Issues of environmental safety and patient dignity and comfort should also be addressed.