Ebola preparation ‘well on the way’


Published: Wednesday 22nd October 2014 by The News Editor

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NHS workers are not all yet fully prepared for a possible Ebola case but preparations are “well on the way”, Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said.

Dame Sally told MPs that all health service chiefs had been asked to confirm that steps had been taken to ensure isolation rooms were available and staff knew how to react should a victim walk into a hospital.

She sought again to play down the threat to the UK – insisting that on present evidence there should be no more than a handful of cases and dismissing reports the virus could become transmissible through the air.

Emergency exercises had shown preparations for the potential domestic impact of the outbreak that has killed thousands in West Africa were going “rather better than I dared hope”, she told the Commons health select committee.

She told MPs she shared their concerns about the level of preparedness across the health service but said she was reassured by Public Health England that efforts were on track.

“A lot of work is going on. It is improving day by day. There is more work to be done,” she said.

“Every casualty is now working to develop an isolation room and make sure their personal protection equipment is handy and there is work ongoing to ensure that people are trained in its use.”

She went on: “Remember how low the risk is: if they have started now and it happens in the next week or so that should be satisfactory.

“NHS England have today sent a letter to every chief executive in the NHS with a checklist for assurance purposes asking them to sign that off.”

“I share your concern. What I have heard last night and this morning makes me think we are well on the way to the best place we could be.”

Committee chair Sarah Wollaston – a GP – said one accident and emergency doctor had contacted her to say that he was not even aware of where protective clothing was kept.

Dame Sally said all staff, and not just clinicians, needed to be made aware.

“I think they should know where it is and how to put it on and – more importantly – how to take it off, but actually to have agreed who would be the first to do it because not everyone would need to.

“The first response is ‘hello, ah, if you may have Ebola, I would like you to sit in this room, here is a glass of water and I am shutting the door while I call in some experts and we make sure we know what we do’.”

“They need to raise their awareness and it would be very good for infection control generally.

Dame Sally claimed she was ” not sleeping because we are working so hard” to deal with the threat of Ebola.

There were at present 12 specialist beds available, she said, but more could easily be added if required.

“I’m sure that if we had to we could open Ebola wards.”

She repeatedly sought to reassure the public over reports that the virus could mutate to a strain that could be spread in the air not, as at present, only via bodily fluids.

Analysis by experts at the Government’s Porton Down laboratories had found “no suggestion” it was on such a course, she said.

Dame Sally said discussions were under way about extending screening of passengers to UK entry points beyond Heathrow and Gatwick airports and Eurostar services.

But she said the policy was “mainly about communication” to ensure people travelling to affected countries were aware of who to call if they started to show symptoms and was “not going to catch everyone”.

The vital tool was screening those leaving affected areas, she said.

MPs were told that “appropriate screening on a one-off basis” could be provided if required for two ships reportedly due to arrive in Falmouth from Sierra Leone next month.

Published: Wednesday 22nd October 2014 by The News Editor

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