Scotland lacks specialist unit to treat Ebola

London's Royal Free Hospital has specialist Ebola facilities. Picture: Getty
London's Royal Free Hospital has specialist Ebola facilities. Picture: Getty
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ANYONE who tests positive for Ebola in Scotland would have to be transferred to a specialist hospital in London for treatment, the Scottish Government said yesterday.

At present, Scotland has four infectious disease units with routine 24/7 consultant cover but no high-level isolation unit used to treat people with highly infectious diseases.

The Royal Free Hospital in London is the only one in the UK that can be used to treat “confirmed” cases of Ebola.

It is where English nurse Will Pooley recovered from the disease in August and September after receiving the experimental drug ZMapp. He contracted Ebola working in Sierra Leone.

Health secretary Alex Neil told MSPs earlier this week that monitoring is to be stepped up in Scotland, with oil and gas workers returning from west Africa screened for the virus.

Workers flying in will be given the same level of monitoring as health and aid volunteers who have been assisting in affected countries, including Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Scotland’s first testing facility is to be up and running within weeks, MSPs were told earlier this week. And doctors’ surgeries in Inverness have begun asking patients who phone for an appointment if they have been abroad in the last 21 days.

Any patients suspected of having contracted Ebola in the NHS Highland region would be held in isolation at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness and, once the disease was confirmed, driven 560 miles by ambulance for treatment in London. A spokesman for the Scottish Government confirmed any patient diagnosed with Ebola would be transferred to the high-level isolation unit in London.

He said: “Scotland has four infectious disease units and routine 24/7 consultant cover. These are in NHS Glasgow, NHS Lothian, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Grampian.

“There are also many general hospital isolation units throughout Scotland with infectious disease cover. These provide facilities for the investigation, isolation and care of patients suspected of having an infectious disease.

“If Ebola is considered a possibility then a person would be tested for the disease.

“A suspect case would be barrier-nursed and isolated in a side room so as to ensure staff safety and minimise contacts with other people while they are under investigation. If the test is positive then they will be transferred to a hospital-based high-level isolation unit (HLIU).

“The UK and Scottish protocol for any patient diagnosed with Ebola is for them to be transferred to the HLIU in Royal Free, where the facilities, staff and systems are in place to ensure the best quality and safest care.”

Edinburgh Airport staged a training exercise yesterday to test procedures for dealing with passengers with symptoms of Ebola, with Glasgow Airport due to hold a similar session today.

Some 80 people took part from airlines, the police, ambulance service, Scottish Government and Home Office. It involved a scenario in which a family of four from Liberia on a Heathrow-Edinburgh flight had symptoms of fever and nausea.

An airport spokesman said: “It gives all agencies the opportunity to test procedures which could be implemented if the worst-case scenario arose.”

Aberdeen Airport said it had tested its procedures for real when a ten-year-old girl of Nigerian descent arrived at Heathrow with suspected Ebola in August.

Elsewhere, a team of specialist nurses is being recruited to screen possible Ebola cases who arrive at Manchester Airport.

Adverts have been placed for airport health screening nurses, who will be paid £25-£30 an hour to detect possible cases of the disease as passengers arrive.

There are no direct flights into Manchester Airport from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone, where the majority of Ebola deaths have occurred.

It is understood nurses will concentrate on passengers who have flown from those countries into other European hub airports which have direct flights.

Meanwhile, in the US, a nurse who vowed to defy a voluntary quarantine ruling for healthcare workers who treated Ebola patients followed through on her promise to break the curfew.

Kaci Hickox and her boyfriend stepped out of their home yesterday morning and rode away on bicycles, followed by the state police.

Officers could not detain her without a court order signed by a judge and Ms Hickox contends there is no need for quarantine as she is showing no symptoms. She has tested negative for the disease.

State officials were going to court in an effort to detain Ms Hickox for the remainder of a 21-day incubation period for Ebola that ends on 10 November.

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