The preparedness of Britain’s hospitals for the arrival of a potential ebola epidemic is under question after a suspected case triggered chaos at a London hospital on Saturday where staff were “panicking and scared” and failed to put the patient under proper quarantine.
One member of staff at the University Hospital Lewisham revealed details of the patient to the Sun newspaper of how after the man, who had recently come to the UK from Sierra Leone walked into A&E with a fever, which caused the hospital to apparently descend into chaos. Instead of immediately sending the patient to the Royal Free, London’s ebola-ready hospital, hospital staff apparently discarded the directives and kept the patient which they were insufficiently able to quarantine.
Although tests eventually proved the patient was not suffering from ebola, while waiting for the tests to be returned the patient had unfettered access to a communal toilet and kitchen, and had contact with the outside world. In an interview, the whistle-blower said “He has even been allowed visitors, which means the infection is not being properly contained. It’s unbelievable… You see pictures on TV of doctors in bio-hazard suits but we only have an apron, mask and flimsy surgical gloves”.
Without sufficient equipment to deal with a walk-in patient, the doctors on duty were reluctant to approach the patient, and one ward refused to admit him at all.
A recent report by an American academic group suggested that because of Britain’s excellent transport and cultural links to West Africa, it was a 50-50 chance that ebola would arrive and spread in the United Kingdom by the end of this month. The British government has been running drills throughout the health service, emergency services and military over the past week to prepare the nation’s first responders and support services for it’s arrivals, and the health secretary has called the nation’s preparations “robust”.
Despite the preparations, experiences in Spain and the United States show that even “robust” plans aren’t foolproof. In both nations, nurses who have treated ebola sufferers from West Africa have themselves contracted the disease. In these cases, it is believed that improper use of personal protection equipment while taking off soiled garments caused infection.