On average, people in the UK have fewer days off sick than people in other parts of the developed world. But global pandemics are on the rise – and that’s why’s health, risk, and insurance experts and history experts met in London on Wednesday for the World Employment and Health Forum to discuss how work can survive the threat of pandemics.
“There’s a lot of nonsense around saying that you need to have workplace disaster plans in place but still failing to do that on a regular basis,” said Dr. Darrell Rigby, National Programme Coordinator for Global Health Infrastructure Collaboration, and Incident Manager at the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Task Force.
“But here, it’s like a civil servant. You can say that you’re a civil servant, you can pretend that you have a disaster plan, but you actually go into a crisis, you meet the problem, and you fix it.”
London is a dynamic city with a sophisticated public health infrastructure; what do you do in a crisis?
People, medical equipment, and hospitals can be easily brought to the streets, so health specialists recommend only bringing business travelers.
“When you get a disaster, you’re going to have a lot of problem areas, and these challenge yourselves,” said Marta Serrano, Chief Communications Officer at London Health Sciences Centre, and Chief of Health Security in the City of London. “When you’re in a crisis, you need leaders to be leaders and a great place to be is in London in the City.”
Right now, London’s health services are preparing for a “possibly more severe and extensive [pandemic] than we’ve had before.”
Scientists are trying to find a way to use microbes to treat and prevent disease from spreading – but it’s been incredibly difficult.
“There’s nothing simple about bringing on an antibiotic now and there’s almost nothing simple about finding alternative drugs,” said Dr. Sidney Smith, Professor of Health Protection and Director of the Centre for Public Health Immunity at the University of Manchester.
With ideas so numerous, it might be time to take lessons from history, said Mark Rudd, Managing Director of AnNV. “During and after the Black Death, we did have a very different system in place than we do today,” he said. “If we do have pandemics, we could better utilize our public services, maybe integrate more into the public services.”
In London, discussions are already taking place – and those on both sides of the debate are anxious to see what will be done in the City.
“I think the City is already really used to being ready to deal with these situations,” said Dr. Jana Barragin from the City of London Corporation, and Excessive Caution Area
“This is the city that will come back faster, we’ll come out of the crisis faster. We are already just putting some science in to be prepared – things like planning the public transport systems, because that’s so the first point of contact.”
“It’s about jobs and economic security and social security,” said Dr. Mark Hopkins, one of the organizers of the forum. “People coming in and out of the city and their safety. They’ll come back in an economic sense. I think it’s important that people who can work here will do so and all of the indicators we’ve seen here have been so good with regards to the health of the city.”