Deadly and dangerous, the Ebola virus has hit headlines around the world and its arrival in the UK predicted to be inevitable.
However, healthcare and large institutions in Bournemouth could be unprepared and vulnerable to Ebola if the virus reached UK shores
This follows the statement released today from The Royal Bournemouth Hospital that it is ‘unequipped’ to care for patients in the instance of an Ebola outbreak in the UK.The Hospital’s announcement follows advice issued by the Department of Health yesterday in which hospitals were given guidelines on how to deal with any potential Ebola cases, and what assessment criteria should be applied to diagnose the infection correctly in the event of a UK resident displaying symptoms of the virus.
The Royal Bournemouth Hospital has said that while it is prepared with personal protective equipment, they would need to rely on support from specialist units from around the country over 100 miles away to care for the patient.
The Department of Health’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Sally Davies outlined that all patients exhibiting symptoms of EVD should be asked to provide a full travel history if they have recently visited a country experiencing an Ebola outbreak. If Ebola is considered likely, the patient should be placed in isolation and appropriate infection control measures carried out.
Patients with symptoms indicative of the Ebola virus would, if necessary, be transferred to the Royal Free specialist hospital in London for further treatment.
Should the NHS be doing more to prepare for an Ebola outbreak?
While there has been no local measures put in place specifically by the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group to equip the health service for an Ebola outbreak in this area, Dr Sara White explained that in fact, putting into operation measures to prepare for the virus would counteract other services within the NHS that are more vital to the health of the people of Dorset.
If all hospitals were set up to deal with every single type of infection we would never get anything done. You’ve got to put things into context of what is more important – this type of infection outbreak in the UK is so desperately rare that day-to-day health issues affecting thousands of people across Dorset – as well as the UK – obviously need to be prioritised.
“Every hospital in the UK is already trained in infection control and will have procedures in place to isolate patients with an infectious virus.”
Despite downplaying the need for Ebola-specific measures within Bournemouth Hospital, Dr White is keen to assert that even control and treatment of Ebola amongst other dieaseses can prove futile.
“We’re run by viruses. Often humans think we are the superior species but it’s actually bacteria who are in control. They can mutate and change depending on their environment – we have to develop a new vaccine for flu every year because we have to wait for the outbreak to treat it, and that might be the same with Ebola.”
What about other factions within the NHS?
Hospitals across the UK have established and effective infection control procedures following previous problems with viruses and bacteria spreading – however for patients potentially infected with Ebola the first point of contact may be with local doctors or pharmacists, for which the general Public Health England guidelines on containment issued in response to the potential threat of Ebola may not be appropriate.
Richard Gordon, the Director of Bournemouth University’s Disaster Management Centre raised some important questions on the issue.
“There may be infection controls in the hospital but what if someone with Ebola goes into a supermarket pharmacy or a walk in surgery? How will the patient be contained? Will they then check who they have come into contact with and who where they in turn have been? It’s not yet clear how it will be handled.
Public Health England have issued a detailed algorithm to all health care professionals within the NHS with step by step guides on how to assess patients – but little detail is given in regards to whether such checks would change by their nature if conducted in a place where members of the public may be at increased risk of harm – such as chemists or local surgeries.
When contacted, Public Health England stated that due to the current low risk situation of Ebola in the UK it is not yet necessary to go beyond current infection controls measures already in place, but there is cleaning guidance available online for environmental cleaning of non-healthcare setting, which may include doctors surgeries waiting rooms and pharmacies.
Should we be worried about other non-healthcare environments where Ebola could spread?
With over almost 20,000 students from around the world stretched across two campus’ Bournemouth University is a hive of international activity that could be the perfect environment for the Ebola virus to breed.
Dr Sara White added in discussing the effectiveness of the NHS to deal with Ebola that targeting the virus at its root is ultimately the preferable approach of attack.
“You’ve got think – just how are people going to get into England and Dorset with this kind of infection? And that is where we should be focussing our efforts, on preventing not preparing to treat.”
The university confirmed that there were “a handful” of students enrolled from countries in West Africa where the outbreak has been considered severe,however spokesman James Donald explained there was currently no plans to regulate their potential movement back home .
“It would be a bit tricky to start regulating or monitoring travel by our students to other countries – we have over 17,000 students who could be going anywhere in the world so it is not really something that would be appropriate or administratively possible at this moment to keep tabs on every student.
“Despite this, we will continue to monitor information from the World Health Organisation and Public Health England on the topic.”