Forced onto the frontline in the midst of a global health pandemic, the doctors and nurses who work within Australia’s public and private hospitals have certainly been under enormous strain these past 18 months.

Likewise, hospital administrators and leadership teams have faced incredible pressure in planning for and responding to an unprecedented and highly uncertain situation.Ultimately, the biggest risk facing any hospital right now is capacity; both in terms of hospital beds and healthcare staff.

While we all remain hopeful that COVID will soon be nothing more than a bad memory, experts are warning that we must prepare for an even greater surge in cases over the next 12 months as new virus strains continue to emerge.

So what can a hospital do at a time when staff are already being pushed to breaking point, and the worst may still be yet to come?

Assessing key risks for the year ahead

Ultimately, the biggest risk facing any hospital right now is capacity; both in terms of hospital beds and healthcare staff.

Currently, lockdowns are preventing hospitals from attracting critical new staff from interstate or abroad – which is particularly challenging in an industry already trying to cope with skills shortages.

Staff capacity is especially pertinent in regional and rural Australia, where clinics and hospitals have often struggled to meet demand. If we consider the implications of a situation where 15% of staff in a rural hospital needed to quarantine due to exposure, the repercussions could be devastating.

Another capacity risk is the potential that some staff may be looking to leave their jobs in the near future. Having been under significant stress for many months, the idea of changing to a different role within healthcare may be appealing – but would ultimately place more pressure on a hospital that is already understaffed.

When it comes to hospital capacity, a sharp rise in COVID cases is an undeniable possibility as we move into the next few months. But there is also a concern that untreated health conditions in patients who have been too fearful to visit their GPs in the past year could lead to an increase in other patients requiring urgent hospital care.

As we reflect on and plan for each of these potential scenarios, what can hospital leadership teams be doing now to mitigate their risk?

Preparing for the worst, hoping for the best

As risk management experts, we would urge hospital leadership teams to consider adopting an agile approach as they step into the next 12 months.

Now is the time to review risk management plans and contemplate new risk scenarios so controls can be put in place early. Instead of the traditional 3 or 5 year planning calendars, setting 6-monthly goals and reviewing them each quarter would be more effective.

You might also hold regular stand-ups to review the current state of affairs and ensure all stakeholders are on the same page.

If the worst does unfold, it’s important to be realistic. It’s simply impossible to maintain the status quo across people, process and technology when you’re reacting to unprecedented events.

In this case, we would recommend evaluating must-haves and nice-to-haves in terms of:Ultimately, the biggest risk facing any hospital right now is capacity; both in terms of hospital beds and healthcare staff.

  • What is critical?
  • What can we re-prioritise?
  • What can wait?

Don’t be afraid to sideline less imperative activities (such as lengthy executive meetings) so you can increase capacity by keeping everyone focussed on essential tasks.

During times of increased pressure, it’s also important for leadership to be strong, supportive, loud and visible. This helps staff stay motivated and focussed on outcomes to ensure continued delivery of services to patients.

Lastly, hospitals may need to work together if the situation becomes particularly dire. Especially for those in rural Australia, leaning on regional centres for extra staff or support in times of crisis may be crucial to ensure continuity of care.

Get support to plan ahead:

As we continue our journey through these uncertain times, it has never been more important to collaborate and seek support where it’s most needed.

Having consulted extensively with hospitals in areas of risk management, business continuity and internal controls, our specialist team can support you in your planning and risk management activities across the next 12 months if needed.

Some of the services we offer include:

  • Risk management consulting
  • Internal audits
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data Analytics
  • Governance and controls
  • Advisory across people, process and technology

No one knows what the future will bring. But with a solid plan and a comprehensive understanding of all the potential risk scenarios that could unfold, your hospital will be well-placed to respond efficiently and effectively when the time comes.

For more information

If you require more information on our hospital risk advisory services, please contact our National Director, Hospitals.