Island would be ready to tackle another pandemic – Dr Brink

IF GUERNSEY faces another Covid pandemic, the island will be ready to tackle it, director of Public Health Dr Nicola Brink has said.

Dr Nicola Brink, director of public health. (Picture by Luke Le Prevost, 32172304)
Dr Nicola Brink, director of public health. (Picture by Luke Le Prevost, 32172304)

Dr Brink was the face of Guernsey’s medical response to pandemic and was involved with the production of the 115-page response report.

Guernsey began on-island testing for the Covid virus on 27 March 2020, and it was seen by many, including Dr Brink, as a decisive moment in the island’s navigation of the pandemic.

‘Our testing obviously was of pivotal importance, but we need to retain that expertise and retain the equipment,’ she said.

‘So if we’re faced with it again, we can seamlessly go to testing. And what we’re doing is looking at using the methodologies and the equipment in other areas on the island.

‘So at the moment, we’re looking at a project to detect certain non-native invasive species. So same technology, same equipment is being used for a different aspect of island life.’

Reflecting on the Covid report, she identified the tabletop pandemic practise exercise that she and her team went through in late 2019, prior to Covid, as critical for the island’s successful response.

‘We had no knowledge that we were going to face a pandemic in two months’ time,’ she said.

‘After I started in the role we felt that we needed to at least go through a tabletop where we considered the impact of a pandemic on the island.

‘The main plan at that stage was for an influenza pandemic, but during that exercise, we acknowledged we might face a pandemic by another virus. That preparedness was absolutely integral and put us on a firmer footing when we were faced with the real thing.’

And her role as the public face of the island's response actually came out of that exercise.

‘The importance of communication was identified in the 2019 pandemic planning, we thought it was important not to be an anonymous person, that actually being a named person, taking accountability for decisions, facing islanders and trying to explain the decision-making process, was very important.’

Another critical part of that response was how quickly public health moved to on-island testing, and it was another process that surprisingly started long before the first lockdown.

‘As we went in to December 2019, we got early warning through international sources, saying there was an unusual cluster of pneumonias, and we felt at that time we really had to prepare, and by February, we knew that we wanted to have our own on-island testing. So we started then with the equipment ordering.’

Unlike some of the senior politicians, Dr Brink was involved with the compiling of the Covid review.

‘I’m pleased that it is a very comprehensive report,’ she said.

‘We’re very happy to have any aspect of the response scrutinised. I think it’s important that we learn and I think this report gives us some very useful information.

‘What was encouraging for us, was that through two terms of government we felt listened to and our views were considered. They were challenged, of course, and appropriately so. But I think from a public health perspective, the fact that the political leadership was also working as part of that team was extremely important.’

Dr Brink said that following the review, Public Health has developed an infection plan, which will be published during the course of this year.

‘This infection plan not only looks at the management of pandemics and outbreaks,’ she said.

‘But also things like antibiotic resistance, and our whole island response to infection.’

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