Healthcare chiefs have revealed how they would deal with a potential outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
The disease has swept across West Africa and has now reached into Europe, with a case confirmed in Spain.
So, what would happen if Ebola – or any other epidemic – infected the people of Buckinghamshire?
Bucks County Council’s consultant in public health medicine Dr Ravi Balakrishnan said that there are specific action plans in place involving police, ambulance services and local authorities.
He said: “It all depends on the individual cases, and there’s no blanket process for any condition.
“With Ebola, because it is something fairly new there is a national protocol that we follow.”
Dr Balakrishnan said the first step would be to isolate the patient, carry out blood tests and a risk assessment before acting quickly to prevent the spread of infection.
As part of that step, all those in contact with the infected person – be it parents, siblings or friends – would be offered medicine or an antidote to prevent them from coming down with the infection too.
The nerve centre of this operation would be at the Thames Valley Public Health England Centre in Didcot, Oxfordshire and any outbreaks would be monitored 24/7by Public Health England.
Dr Balakrishnan said: “It’s all tailored to that particular patient, so we plan accordingly. If need be, staff wear protective suits and masks and we prepare suitable transport.”
Public Health England has ensured the Royal Free Hospital in London is ready to quarrantine Ebola victims if neccessary.
Dr Balakrishnan said if the risk to public health was deemed high enough, a particular building or town could be locked down to stop people entering or leaving.
He said: “One instance we had was a school in Chesham, where the children had contracted tuberculosis.
“There was a specific incident control team led by Public Health England, made up of the partner agencies and they made the decisions together.
“They screened all the children in the school, talked to them about any symptom concerns and issued the BCG vaccination.”
DrBalakrishnan used the 2005 Buncefield oil explosion in Hemel Hempstead as an example of how the partner agencies – fire, ambulance and police – work together when a major incident occurs.
He said: “We have a ‘dry run’ or simulation every month or so, when all the partner agencies come together for the exercise to run through the plan and make any necessary changes.”
If a number of people were to die as the result of an epidemic, Dr Balakrishnan said the coroner’s office decide on how to proceed to prevent the spread of infection as part of a ‘mass fatality plan’.
He said: “Depending on the nature of the illness, some bodies could be incinerated – but that decision would be left to the coroner.”