BMA warns lack of public health resources leaves London vulnerable to pandemic

By agency reporter
July 31, 2018

The British Medical Association (BMA) London regional council chair has written to the Mayor of London warning a lack of public health resources leaves the city vulnerable to serious infectious disease like Avian Flu or Ebola.

Dr Gary Marlowe, a GP in Hackney, has told Sadiq Khan the BMA has been made aware London’s capacity to deal with an emergency outbreak has been reduced despite "the clear and present danger" posed to a global capital. 

Dr Marlowe writes: “There is, quite simply, no longer a 24/7 Public Health Laboratory diagnostic service in London. This service, for a global city of around 12 million people has been outsourced to public health laboratory services in Cambridge and Birmingham presumably with an overall reduction of staff and physical resources.”

London now lacks a fully functioning, well-resourced, 24-hour, acute public health laboratory service and a full-time Lead Public Health Microbiologist. These services provide vital diagnostics and expert advice in the event of a serious infectious disease such as Avian Flu, Ebola virus, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) or measles. 

Dr Marlowe writes: “Serious emerging infectious diseases from abroad often hit London first due to our international links and diverse population. We cannot ever totally prevent infectious diseases, nor can we predict when the next major threat will arrive but what we should be able to do is have the resources to mitigate the risks and in so doing save lives by being well prepared for them.“

The PHL (public health laboratory) based at Barts Health NHS trust, which provided round-the-clock Ebola testing during the West African outbreak in 2015, has been "virtually disestablished", Dr Marlowe explained. 

The capital’s leading microbiologist retired in 2016, and is yet to be replaced. There has not been a London regional virologist in post since June 2018. 
  Dr Marlowe added: “This outsourcing of urgent public health testing to distant regions does not aid response to outbreaks in London.”

Dr Marlowe believes Public Health England’s decision-making has exposed London to greater risk than is acceptable and calls on the Mayor to enquire into London’s emergency preparedness and resilience in the event of an outbreak. 

* British Medical Association


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