NZ gets UK poisons help

A web-based toxic substances database is bridging the 19,000 kilometres and day-night divide between Dunedin and London, in the process averting a staff shortage at New Zealand's National Poisons Centre.

A web-based toxic substances database is bridging the 19,000 kilometres and day-night divide between Dunedin and London, in the process averting a staff shortage at New Zealand’s National Poisons Centre.

The database, built for the centre by Christchurch-based Jade, proved to be a lifeline when the centre faced a staffing crisis earlier this year. “Four or five staff left at the same time and we had a staffing shortage,” says director Wayne Temple.

A temporary solution to the problem was found through the centre’s relationship with its counterpart in Britain.

“We said ‘if you have the resources, can you use the database to answer calls from New Zealand’, and they said yes.”

Staff at the London-based British National Poisons Information Service now take 0800 calls outside New Zealand working hours from New Zealanders concerned they or their children have swallowed poison. UK staff call up the database to get New Zealand-specific information. The database assists by providing trade names of chemicals and agricultural compounds that may different to those in Britain, Temple says.

The arrangement began in August, Temple says, and has worked out well so far.

“With the 12-hour time difference, it’s the middle of the day there when it’s the middle of the night here and there are usually three or four calls a night from New Zealand.”

The arrangement will go on for another two months, he says, “until we get more New Zealand staff on board” for rostered, 24-hour advice.

The database was built in the Jade language in 1999, replacing the Linc mainframe database Jade had previously supplied the centre with, says Jade spokesman Greg Williamson.

An object-oriented database, it was adjusted this year to be deployed on the web and runs on a thin-client basis, being stored on a server in Christchurch and accessed through Windows by the centre’s staff.

The London staff, however, are accessing it through the web interface and not the thin client set-up, Williamson says. “There’s no difference in performance.”

The database holds details on 63,000 toxic substances, including medicines, chemicals and venomous animals. The centre has supplied it to some hospital emergency departments in New Zealand.

Temple says the centre is looking at giving GPs access to it.

Some parts of the database are available to the public at www.toxinz.com.

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