The Prime Minister chaired a COBR meeting on Ebola this afternoon. The attendees included the Chancellor, Home Secretary, Defence Secretary, Health Secretary, Transport Secretary, International Development Secretary, Public Health Minister, Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientist and Dr Paul Cosford from Public Health England. The Foreign Secretary in the US and UK team in Sierra Leone joined via a video link.
The meeting covered both the UK preparedness for potential cases of Ebola in this country and the UK’s efforts to combat the disease in West Africa.
There was a detailed discussion about plans for protecting the UK against Ebola. The Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, and Dr Paul Cosford set out that the UK had some of the best public health protection systems in the world and the risk to the UK remained low. The Chief Medical Officer detailed the procedures in place for dealing with any Ebola case in the UK, and the training and preparation that had already taken place with key organisations and staff, including ambulance medics, hospitals, NHS 111, GPs and other key public health workers.
The case of Will Pooley had demonstrated the UK’s ability to deal with an identified case without wider infection, with a world-leading specialist unit at The Royal Free. Contingency planning would continue and will include a national exercise and wider resilience training to ensure the UK is fully prepared. The Chief Medical Officer has now issued further advice to medical professionals across the country and would continue to do so in the coming weeks. Information posters for passengers would be put up in UK airports.
The Prime Minister was updated on the situation on the ground by the UK team in Sierra Leone, where the number of cases continues to rise. The UK was already taking a leading role in the efforts to support the government to deal with the outbreak. Using British expertise and local building contractors, the UK has committed to build at least 5 new Ebola Treatment Facilities with a total of 700 beds near urban centres including Port Loko, Freetown and Makeni. The package will help up to nearly 8,800 patients over a 6 month period. The UK was also supporting infection training for workers and support to ensure burial sites, and the Department for International Development is undertaking a rapid trial of 10 local community care units to isolate Ebola cases more quickly, with clinics providing swift and accurate diagnosis and appropriate care.
It was agreed that the UK will increase the level of support further. This will include more training capacity, new treatment centres and helicopter support.
750 Ministry of Defence personnel will be deployed in total to help with the establishment of Ebola Treatment Centres and an Ebola Training Academy. This will include:
- the deployment of RFA Argus to take and support 3 Merlin helicopters, aircrew and engineers in the region to provide crucial transport support to medical teams and aid experts. This will involve around 250 personnel.
- over 200 military staff will be deployed to run and staff World Health Organisation-led Ebola training facility that will assist in the training of healthcare workers, logisticians and hygiene specialists who are needed to staff treatment units
- 300 military personnel making up the existing UK taskforce plans focussed on delivering support to the Sierra Leone government.