Warning that Norfolk is ill-prepared if there is an Ebola outbreak

Senior Matron Breda Athan demonstrates the use of a high level isolation apparatus in the High Secur

Senior Matron Breda Athan demonstrates the use of a high level isolation apparatus in the High Secure Infectious Disease Unit at The Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London. - Credit: PA

Norfolk is ill-prepared for an Ebola outbreak affecting more than one patient, officials from the county's busiest hospital warned yesterday.

Ngozi Elumogu, director of infection, prevention and control, with laboratory staff at the Norwich R

Ngozi Elumogu, director of infection, prevention and control, with laboratory staff at the Norwich Research Park. Photo: Bill Smith

The contagious virus has killed more than 4,000 people in west Africa and there have been cases identified in seven countries across the globe.

Officials from Norfolk's three acute hospitals said they had plans in place and front-line staff were prepared if there was an isolated case of Ebola.

However, Ngozi Elumogu, director of infection prevention and control at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said it was not yet known what would happen if the country's only high level isolation unit was unable to cope with an outbreak of the deadly disease in the UK.

Dr Elumogu told the board of governors yesterday that a system-wide review was taking place to decide what would happen in Norfolk if there was a major outbreak of Ebola. She added that front-line staff were being briefed on how to isolate patients who come into the Colney hospital displaying the symptoms of the virus, who would be transferred to the Royal Free Hospital in north London, which has a high level isolation unit.

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'If we had two or three cases or a whole family, it would be very, very difficult. If we start to have a number of cases, we will have to cope with the local infrastructure because the designated places will not be able to cope.

'It may be best to take them to one place to keep them away from acute hospitals and bring services to them. We hope it will be clear before it comes to Norfolk,' she said.

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Dr Elumogu said the N&N had already had a couple of scares with patients who had come from Chad, Gambia, and Nigeria, who had presented some of the signs of Ebola, which turned out to be malaria.

Anna Dugdale, chief executive, of the N&N, added: 'If it gets to the position with large numbers it would be a really big issue. There are no isolation rooms and no hospital has numbers of those rooms. Because of a third of beds are single rooms, we are in a better position, but we are not where we would like to be.'

The UK's chief medical officer has warned that there could be a handful of Ebola cases over the next three months. However, the public health risk in the UK remains low.

The UK currently has a total of 26 isolation beds in London, Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield, if there is an outbreak. All ambulances will also be equipped with personal protective equipment to try to stop an infection spreading.

A spokesman for the James Paget University Hospital, said: 'JPUH has effective procedures in place to handle a suspected case of Ebola, and all patient facing staff are aware of the urgent assessment and protocol to follow if they consider a patient to be at risk. We also recently conducted an emergency training exercise to ensure our staff are confident and prepared for any major incident.'

A spokesman for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn added: 'The hospital is ready at all times to deal with patients presenting with symptoms of infectious diseases. The Ebola outbreak raises the possibility of a patient with this rare condition, needing to be treated at the hospital. We are following national guidelines in preparation for such an eventuality.'

People can become infected with the Ebola virus if they come into contact with the blood, body fluids or organs of an infected person.

The NHS is advising anyone who feels unwell with a fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, sore throat, and intense muscle within 21 days of coming back from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone to stay at home and immediately telephone 111 or 999 and explain that you have recently visited West Africa.

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