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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

"Will they just pack up and leave?" – attitudes and intended behaviour of hospital health care workers during an influenza pandemic

Holly Seale1*, Julie Leask2, Kieren Po3 and C Raina MacIntyre12*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Kensington, New South Wales, Australia

2 National Centre for Immunization Research and Surveillance of Vaccine Preventable Diseases (NCIRS), The Children's Hospital at Westmead, Discipline of Pediatrics and Child Health and School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

3 Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:30  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-30

Published: 13 February 2009

Abstract

Background

There is a general consensus that another influenza pandemic is inevitable. Although health care workers (HCWs) are essential to the health system response, there are few studies exploring HCW attitudes to pandemic influenza. The aim of this study was to explore HCWs knowledge, attitudes and intended behaviour towards pandemic influenza.

Methods

Cross-sectional investigation of a convenience sample of clinical and non-clinical HCWs from two tertiary-referral teaching hospitals in Sydney, Australia was conducted between June 4 and October 19, 2007. The self-administered questionnaire was distributed to hospital personal from 40 different wards and departments. The main outcome measures were intentions regarding work attendance and quarantine, antiviral use and perceived preparation.

Results

Respondents were categorized into four main groups by occupation: Nursing (47.5%), Medical (26.0%), Allied (15.3%) and Ancillary (11.2%). Our study found that most HCWs perceived pandemic influenza to be very serious (80.9%, n = 873) but less than half were able to correctly define it (43.9%, n = 473). Only 24.8% of respondents believed their department to be prepared for a pandemic, but nonetheless most were willing to work during a pandemic if a patient or colleague had influenza. The main determinants of variation in our study were occupational factors, demographics and health beliefs. Non-clinical staff were significantly most likely to be unsure of their intentions (OR 1.43, p < 0.001). Only 42.5% (n = 459) of respondents considered that neuraminidase inhibitor antiviral medications (oseltamivir/zanamivir) would protect them against pandemic influenza, whereas 77.5% (n = 836) believed that vaccination would be of benefit.

Conclusion

We identified two issues that could undermine the best of pandemic plans – the first, a low level of confidence in antivirals as an effective measure; secondly, that non-clinical workers are an overlooked group whose lack of knowledge and awareness could undermine pandemic plans. Other issues included a high level of confidence in dietary measures to protect against influenza, and a belief among ancillary workers that antibiotics would be protective. All health care worker strategies should include non clinical and ancillary staff to ensure adequate business continuity for hospitals. HCW education, psychosocial support and staff communication could improve knowledge of appropriate pandemic interventions and confidence in antivirals.