Over the past few weeks, a frequent question in meetings or stakeholder events I’ve been at is a concern to understand what we’re doing to prepare for someone with Ebola.
Many other directors of public health get the same questions. It reminds me of swine ’flu in 2009.
Ebola even had a major spread in the US magazine Time last month.
We expect a handful of cases, says the chief medical officer.
My response is always the same – the risk is low and we’ll be ready if it happens. Because we’re doing the detailed work of planning, exercising and getting systems and protocols right.
“And what can we do?” is usually the next question.
That’s easy. First, support the efforts of agencies on the ground in Africa because stopping the epidemic there is for all of us. Second, make sure people stay calm and don’t blame or harass people from affected countries living here.
Ebola isn’t that easy to transmit. But that doesn’t mean we’re being complacent. The NHS has had strong protocols for some time, and we have had time on our side to practise.
For the rest of us, we’re at minimal risk. Infected fluids have to get into our mucous membranes or broken skin. People who have no symptoms are not infectious.
The NHS is geared up for cases presenting. Local authorities have had a new system of health protection with new regulations and changed responsibilities since 2009; suites of Ebola-specific guidance adds to the existing guidance on how we prepare, and the exercises are a good way of looking at the new system, now that directors of public health are in local government.
Roles have become clearer, protocols for exposure in the community have been refined and trigger points for action agreed and reviewed. Local agencies are working together.
It’s helpful to be in local government and if anything, easier to see across the whole system. Most areas have had planning meetings or exercises and refined plans.
There will be lessons from this. Some think the international community should have acted much quicker. Closer to home, we will be able to review and further improve local response.
Jim McManus, director of public health, Hertfordshire CC