UK Ebola Preparedness

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Has the Secretary of State had the chance to consult the British Medical Journal editorial of 13 October, which insisted—more than two months ago—that the Government’s airport screening policy for Ebola was illogical? I spoke to the author yesterday and he argues that we have missed the one case to have been imported while thousands, many at low risk, have been delayed, detained and made to fill in a form just because they have been to west Africa. Experts such as the author insist that what the Government should have been doing is ensuring that all those at risk, especially health workers such as Pauline, know exactly what to do if they start to feel unwell. Might it be sensible to keep health workers away from direct patient contact for 21 days after they return?

Mr Hunt: Perhaps I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman on that point. Health care workers are kept away from direct patient work for that incubation period, so that protocol has been put in place. The BMJ article to which he refers is based, I think, on the misunderstanding that screening is the same as testing. The reality is that the tests for Ebola show up only when the virus has reached a certain level, at which point the patient will have become feverish and started displaying symptoms. So testing before that point is a waste of time. The purpose of the screening process is to identify those at highest risk so that we can make sure that they are actively monitored when they go home and that they know exactly what to do if they do develop symptoms. That is exactly what happened with Pauline Cafferkey.