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New Zealand nurses join earthquake effort

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Nurses and health professionals from all over New Zealand were flown in within hours of the earthquake last week to provide support to struggling health services.

A 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch in New Zealand’s South Island on 22 February. 163 people have been confirmed dead.

The next day three health workers from each of New Zealand’s 20 Health Authorities were sent to help out.

Some of the flown-in staff worked in makeshift hospitals while others joined the rotas of Christchurch’s health centres.

One of these was British intensive care nurse Sarah Walker, who travelled over 400 miles from Waikato District in the country’s North Island to work in Christchurch Hospital’s intensive care unit.

Ms Walker told Nursing Times: “When we arrived it was very eerie. Life has to go on I suppose. You have got buildings that are demolished, with paint on them to indicate whether it was safe or not and at the same time people are still walking their dogs.”

“The resilience of the people is amazing”, she added.

Ms Walker said a larger, but less destructive earthquake that hit the South Island in September 2010 had served as a “practice run” and meant a quick response system was in place. 

On arriving she slept on the floor of a hotel dining room along with “all sorts of displaced people”.

Ms Walker was drafted into the roster at the ICU. Within 24 hours of the quake they had admitted 28 patients seriously injured patients, while many with minor injuries were sent straight to other wards to prioritise the intensive care resources.

“As late as a day after the earthquake, people were still coming in with multi-trauma crush injuries,” she said.

The water quality in the city was badly affected by the earthquake so dialysis could not be performed. Patients were flown to New Zealand’s other cities for treatment.

Many people are still missing, with bodies still being recovered from the rubble of the city.

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