Ebola in Scotland: risk ‘relatively low’ but health chief urges vigilance

Posted on 09/10/2014 by


Ebola_virus_virionThe Scottish Government Resilience Committee (SGoRR) met last night to discuss preparedness related to the Ebola situation in West Africa. The meeting was chaired by First Minister Alex Salmond.

The First Minister said: “It is crucial our health service is geared up to deal with any potential confirmed cases of Ebola in Scotland.

“That was the basis of the meeting and I am confident our NHS is ready to respond. But we must not only asses our preparedness in Scotland, we must also ensure we are doing all we can to support the efforts to contain the spread of Ebola in West Africa. I have asked for an urgent assessment of what we can do to build on the £500,000 we have already provided to the World Health Organisation and Scotland will do whatever we can to assist.”

Health Secretary Alex Neil was also part of the meeting, along with experts in infectious diseases from Health Protection Scotland and acting Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Aileen Keel.

Mr Neil said: “Our public health experts, including those at Health Protection Scotland, have been monitoring the position very closely since the outbreak began and putting in place the awareness and advice to ensure our health service is as well prepared as possible to respond.

“While the risk remains relatively low, we are ensuring that we have the robust procedures in place to identify cases rapidly. Our health service also has the expertise and facilities to ensure that confirmed Ebola cases would be contained and isolated effectively minimising any potential spread of the disease.

“Indeed, the CMO has written to clinicians across our NHS today to reinforce the need to be vigilant and take the appropriate steps in any suspected or high risk cases.

“Scotland’s NHS has proved it is well able to cope with infectious diseases in the past, such as swine flu, and I am confident we will be able to respond effectively again.

“We will go on monitoring the situation and maintain a high state of vigilance across our health system. SGoRR will meet again in the coming days to continue to closely monitor developments and ensure robust resilience arrangements are in place.”

Earlier yesterday the Prime Minister chaired a COBR meeting on plans to protect the UK against the Ebola virus and combat the disease in West Africa.

A Number 10 spokesperson said:

“The Prime Minister chaired a COBR meeting on Ebola this afternoon. The attendees included the Chancellor, Home Secretary, Defence Secretary, Health Secretary, Transport Secretary, International Development Secretary, Public Health Minister, Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientist and Dr Paul Cosford from Public Health England. The Foreign Secretary in the US and UK team in Sierra Leone joined via a video link.

“The meeting covered both the UK preparedness for potential cases of Ebola in this country and the UK’s efforts to combat the disease in West Africa.

“There was a detailed discussion about plans for protecting the UK against Ebola. The Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, and Dr Paul Cosford set out that the UK had some of the best public health protection systems in the world and the risk to the UK remained low. The Chief Medical Officer detailed the procedures in place for dealing with any Ebola case in the UK, and the training and preparation that had already taken place with key organisations and staff, including ambulance medics, hospitals, NHS 111, GPs and other key public health workers.

“The case of Will Pooley had demonstrated the UK’s ability to deal with an identified case without wider infection, with a world-leading specialist unit at The Royal Free. Contingency planning would continue and will include a national exercise and wider resilience training to ensure the UK is fully prepared. The Chief Medical Officer has now issued further advice to medical professionals across the country and would continue to do so in the coming weeks. Information posters for passengers would be put up in UK airports.

“The Prime Minister was updated on the situation on the ground by the UK team in Sierra Leone, where the number of cases continues to rise. The UK was already taking a leading role in the efforts to support the government to deal with the outbreak. Using British expertise and local building contractors, the UK has committed to build at least 5 new Ebola Treatment Facilities with a total of 700 beds near urban centres including Port Loko, Freetown and Makeni.

“The package will help up to nearly 8,800 patients over a 6 month period. The UK was also supporting infection training for workers and support to ensure burial sites, and the Department for International Development is undertaking a rapid trial of 10 local community care units to isolate Ebola cases more quickly, with clinics providing swift and accurate diagnosis and appropriate care.

It was agreed that the UK will increase the level of support further. This will include more training capacity, new treatment centres and helicopter support.

“750 Ministry of Defence personnel will be deployed in total to help with the establishment of Ebola Treatment Centres and an Ebola Training Academy. This will include:

  • the deployment of RFA Argus to take and support 3 Merlin helicopters, aircrew and engineers in the region to provide crucial transport support to medical teams and aid experts. This will involve around 250 personnel.
  • over 200 military staff will be deployed to run and staff World Health Organisation-led Ebola training facility that will assist in the training of healthcare workers, logisticians and hygiene specialists who are needed to staff treatment units
  • 300 military personnel making up the existing UK taskforce plans focussed on delivering support to the Sierra Leone government.”