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Hospitals in Lanarkshire unable to cope with virus
Hospitals in Lanarkshire were unprepared for ebola when Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey returned home from treating patients in West Africa, it has been claimed.
The nurse who caught the deadly disease in Sierra Leone arrived at her house in Cambuslang in South Lanarkshire on December 28.
Cafferkey, 39, reported symptoms of Ebola to an NHS helpline but it has emerged local A&E departments may have been unable to cope if she had gone to a Lanarkshire hospital.
The nurse remains in a critical condition at the Royal Free Hospital in London.
Medics at one Lanarkshire hospital were only this week provided with protective bio-hazard suits and given training in how to use them to prevent the virus spreading.
Instructions on how to handle an Ebola case were available but it has been claimed the guidelines are of little use without the correct training and equipment.
A spokesman for NHS Lanarkshire insisted staff at all three of its hospitals were fully prepared.
However, a source at the health board said: "There is a binder of protocols in the department, which I think we've had for a month or so, and we got in the protective equipment in the last week or two, but it was only in the last few days we got training in how to gear up and remove it all without risk of exposure.
"The NHS doesn't seem to work on a preparation basis. Now that Ebola is here, they act. It's like telling people to duck and cover during a nuclear attack."
A spokesman for NHS Lanarkshire said: "Staff are well prepared should someone with ebola present at one of our hospitals. Preparations have included issuing staff with updated guidance on the management of patients with suspected ebola.
"Training in the use of personal protective equipment for NHS Lanarkshire staff started in October 2014. There has been regular practice of putting on and taking off protective equipment and we are carrying out a second round of refresher training for staff.
"We have also held a scenario-planning event for staff who would be involved in the treatment of patients and carried out walk- throughs in the hospitals to ensure we are fully prepared."
But the source at NHS Lanarkshire said: "NHS Lanarkshire published the protocol before we had the appropriate gear.
"We did have a scare a few weeks ago. Someone who came in with a fever had been in Africa. The nurse was terrified to triage the patient.
"It ended up they hadn't been to any risky areas and had something else going on but we were all wondering what we were supposed to do.
"I was disturbed that I would be put in a position where I'd have to decide to refuse care for fear of disease. I think that is unacceptable."
The medic claims concerns were raised with senior management weeks before Cafferkey reported symptoms.
"I've been asking what we are supposed to do for months," added the source. "It's upsetting they didn't prepare until it was already here and we could have been exposed with no protection if that poor nurse had shown up at A&E."
Senior Scottish politicians have called for an investigation into the claims.
Labour shadow health minister Jenny Marra MSP, who questioned Health Secretary Shona Robison about protective suits in a debate in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, said: "In the interests of all NHS staff and patients, the health secretary should contact all health boards again this week to check the details of their preparations for a potential ebola case."
Cafferkey's MP, Tom Greatrex, said the revelations were "hugely alarming" and called for an urgent investigation into the level of preparedness across Scotland.
He said: "Back in October, then first minister Salmond boasted that the health service was prepared to deal with suspected cases and health minister Alex Neil claimed that necessary equipment was available.
"It now seems that three months later, NHS frontline staff in Lanarkshire were astonishingly ill-prepared to deal with a situation which could easily have arisen a couple of weeks ago."
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We have sought and received assurances from all NHS boards that they have the appropriate personal protective equipment available and in place. Additionally, materials to train any staff involved in caring for such a case has been provided to the boards.
"Assurances have been given that Ebola planning and exercises, based on a nationally developed exercise, have been carried out within health boards. Consequently, we are well prepared for any eventuality."
Pauline Cafferkey, a public health nurse who worked at Blantyre Health Centre, was part of a 30-strong team of medical volunteers deployed to Africa by the UK Government last month.
She had been working with Save the Children at an Ebola Treatment Centre in Kerry Town, Sierra Leone before flying to London from Morocco on December 28.
She was screened at Heathrow and cleared to fly to Glasgow Airport where she then took a taxi home to Cambuslang.
The following morning she reported symptoms of Ebola and was rushed to Gartnavel General Hospital in Glasgow.
She was later transferred in a military aircraft to a quarantine tent at the Royal Free Hospital in north London.
Ms Cafferkey later agreed to have blood plasma treatment and take an experimental anti-viral drug but her condition has deteriorated and she remains in a critical condition.
A statement released by her family January 8 said the nurse's condition "could remain the same for some time."
A spokesman for the Royal Free declined to give any further comment