26 Mar 2019

Medical response to shootings: 'They did what good doctors would do'

1:10 pm on 26 March 2019

Some doctors and nurses will never forget what they saw and did in the city on the day of the terror shootings, says a primary healthcare leader in Christchurch.

Ambulances leave the scene of the shooting.

Ambulances ferry injured victims to Christchurch Hospital on 15 March. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Pegasus Health chief executive Vince Barry recounted the experience of two GPs and three nurses from Piki Te Ora union and community health clinic in Linwood.

The clinic is adjacent to the Linwood mosque where seven people died on Friday 15 March.

The doctors and nurses were deeply affected by the experience and won't speak to the media but have allowed Mr Barry to do so on their behalf.

Vince Barry

Vince Barry Photo: Supplied

He said Piki Te Ora staff heard "quite a commotion" and "locked themselves down, because they had potentially vulnerable patients in their practice".

He added: "It wasn't until the police came into their carpark that they then offered their assistance, not knowing what was happening. And the police then took three nurses and two GPs across to the scene at the Linwood mosque. And they attended to the victims."

Mr Barry said the five acted "with almost no notice. But also a recognition that there was probably massive trauma. And so they went about their trade particularly well. But as they said, they just kept reinforcing to me that this is not about them. This is about the patients, this is about their community. And they did what good doctors would do."

Mr Barry said the team from Piki Te Ora tried to make people as comfortable as they could "in a situation that they had never trained for and never ever expected to be part of".

He added: "It was the sheer volume of what was in front of them that was the issue, and the circumstance as to why that really captured them."

Mr Barry reacted to the "river of blood" comment that has been made about the aftermath of the mosque shootings. He said: "I'm concerned about some of the initial commentary that has come out, because for these GPs, they've been adamant to me that the experience they had was their personal experience, not one that they want to talk about, but it's one that they will work through themselves as individuals..."

Health workers experienced in dealing with tragedy

More widely, he said that sadly, Canterbury's health workers, both in public hospitals and the community, are "practised in responding to tragedy in this city". He added: "But what we learnt through things like pandemics and massive flu seasons and then of course our earthquakes is an ability to be able to have in place a programme."

Flowers opposite Christchurch Hospital.

Flowers opposite Christchurch Hospital the weekend after the attack on the two mosques. Photo: RNZ / Justin Gregory

He said in this situation, the primary health organisations like Pegasus had phoned every practice to assess how they were affected and place them in categories: green, amber and red, according to their need. The green stream was practices that appeared to be less affected. The categories also took into account those practices that had large Muslim populations, and those practices that had victims of the shootings among their patients.

Dedicated trauma counselling support was one thing that a number of practices, including Piki Te Ora, had received.

Mr Barry said "low cost or no cost" access for some people who had been traumatised by the shootings, or had indicated they were closely associated with it, had also been made available through an agreement reached quickly with the Canterbury District Health Board. The DHB did not respond to a request for comment about this by deadline.

Mr Barry also said after a series of major setbacks over the past eight years, including the Canterbury quakes, the excellent local health system was feeling the strain.

He said: "A high-functioning, well-integrated health system but it is bending in more ways than one."

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