Sunday, 4 January 2015

July 2014 BBC radio interview with Immigration Services Union re Ebola screening: let's hope plans are better advanced now

I hope that nurse Pauline Cafferkey recovers swiftly from Ebola. Her case has highlighted once more the systems that the Government has put in place to protect Britain from Ebola and to ensure that people who may be carrying the virus get the care they need as quickly as possible.

Below is the transcription I made of what I thought at the time was a very revealing interview in July 2014 about the way the UK was preparing for handling cases of Ebola. I am clearly no expert, but the interview with Lucy Morton of the Immigration Services Union suggested to me that the Border Force had not been given sufficiently robust advice, resources or training by the relevant authorities. In fact, I would suggest that the preparation appeared almost as farcical as a scene from Yes Minister, or The Think Of It.

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BBC Radio 4, The World Tonight, 30 July 2014

Intro: The UK's health services have the ability to deal with the experience to deal with the threat posed by the Ebola virus - that's the message from the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond...

Earlier is month Public Health England issued an alert to UK doctors...this evening Border Agency staff were provided with information. A statement from Public Health England said it and the Border Agency remain in close contact to monitor the situation and agree any additional activity as needed. The statement goes on: "it's important to note that the UK has robust systems in place already for infectious disease control, including those in airports and ports, and that the risk of Ebola in England remains very low".

What's the view from the Border Staff themselves, who police the points of entry. I asked Lucy Morton from the Immigration Services Union.

LM: The concern is what do they do if they are confronted with someone that appear unwell at the border. There is no health facility at the border, there is no containment facility and until extremely recently, within the last hour, there has been no guidance issued to staff at all as to what it was they should do.

Q: Would you be able to spot the symptoms of Ebola yourself?

LM: Absolutely not, and no more would any other Border Force officer. We are not medical professionals. The best we could do possibly would be if someone appeared to have a fever, but no, nothing more direct than that.

Q: So what advice advice are you being offered then?

LM: There is a risk algorithm which has been offered to staff very recently.

Q: A risk algorithm? [sounds bemused]

LM: It amounts to a very brief series of questions and ends with "if worried, call an ambulance".

Q: And what, are you supposed to put those questions to somebody if you think that they may have the symptoms but if you don't know the symptoms how do you know who to stop?

LM: I can't answer that one because, how do they know? If someone is symptom free, and of course they may well be, or if the symptoms are relatively mild - people don't get off long-haul air flights looking their best - then no, they've got no way of spotting it.

Q: If you suspect somebody is suffering from Ebola, where do you put them? What do you do with them?

LM: There are small interview rooms. We could remove them from the immediate public, but they are not cleaned, or sterilised, or sealed in any way, above and beyond normal cleaning. There is nowhere to put them. The instructions to staff at the moment amount to "if you're worried, call an ambulance". I very much hope the NHS has an answer to what those poor ambulance staff are supposed to do.

Q: So when we are given assurances that the risk of Ebola in the UK remains very low, because, obviously of the procedures that are on place here, what do you say to that?

LM: Nothing has changed in the procedures that are in place, from this week, to last week, to last year. There is nothing specific in place to control the risk of Ebola arriving. I'm not a public health official, I can't answer to the medical diagnosis, but for my members on the border, they have seen no change and they have no specific information.

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