Britain needs more preparation for responding to public health emergencies

December 06, 2001

Editorial: Managing Major Public Health Crises BMJ Volume 323, pp 1321-2

The United Kingdom needs to be better equipped and organised to deliver health protection in the event of public health emergencies and major disasters. Though better prepared than some other countries, many years of under-investment leaves us vulnerable, warn public health specialists in this week's BMJ.

The recent terrorist and anthrax attacks in the United States have shown how all societies need rescue, health, and public services to respond immediately to emergencies. The numbers of public health doctors need to increase, but so do the numbers of non-medical and nursing staff. The new commitment to public health from the government and the increased responsibility given to regions could make this possible if it is resourced.

Clear guidance is urgently needed if health protection is to be developed by primary care as it is unclear how public health staff will be organised when we move into the new NHS in April 2001. We need in place mechanisms for immediate release of staff required for health protection and it must be clear which bodies bear local responsibility for the control of communicable disease, say the authors.

For a major emergency in the United Kingdom, some help could come from continental Europe, in particular through the European EPIET programme for public health trainees, add the authors. However the United Kingdom can and must fundamentally provide health protection through its own staff who know their locality and have the confidence of the people.

NHS funding has been increased, but mostly against specific targets. Recent events make a powerful case for increasing investment in health protection, they conclude.
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BMJ

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