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Government failed to mobilise Ebola volunteers quickly enough, say MPs

The science and technology select committee has published a report on lessons the UK can learn from its response to the Ebola outbreak

NHS staff were brave to put their names forward to tackle the Ebola outbreak in west Africa but the government’s call for volunteers came late, according to MPs.

The science and technology select committee praised ‘the courageous and selfless actions of UK volunteers’ who tackled the epidemic, which has led to more than 11,000 deaths since 2014.

In its report, published today, on lessons the UK can learn from the outbreak, the committee states: ‘By November 2014, more than 1,000 NHS staff and 185 staff from Public Health England put their names forward to volunteer.

‘Our evidence suggests, however, that the call from the government for volunteers came late and was poorly communicated.’  

The MPs, who collected evidence from experts, including chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies, recommended a clear framework be established to allow for a ‘timely deployment of volunteers overseas’. 

It said the government should consider the model adopted by NHS trusts when releasing staff with reserve forces commitments into conflict zones. 

The report commends the government on its leading contribution to the fight against Ebola, but said there is no room for complacency, and that the UK and international responses were ‘undermined by systematic delay’. 

Committee chair Nicola Blackwood MP said: ‘The government’s emergency response procedures were triggered far too late in the day. Ebola test kits were developed and trialled, but not deployed, and the initial response was ad hoc and uncoordinated.’

The report also raises concerns about the government’s failure to share disease surveillance information with people who could have acted on it and to communicate its rationale for introducing Ebola screening at UK ports.

A government spokesperson said: 'In the same month that the World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak a public health emergency, we sent experts to Sierra Leone and started work on the first of six treatment centres. Britain was in the vanguard of the global response, and we are proud of the contribution our NHS, public health professionals, and armed forces made. 
 
'We have taken steps to ensure an even more effective response in future. This includes the £1 billion Ross Fund for infectious disease research, the UK Vaccine Network to target the most threatening diseases and a rapid-response team of public health professionals who can be deployed within 48 hours to investigate a disease outbreak in a developing country.'

 

Read the full report here.  

 

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