Ebola outbreak: UK officials 'not prepared' to deal with virus arriving at border, union leader warns

Contrary to what Foreign Secretary says, border staff 'don't know what to do or how to protect themselves'

UK border officials feel they are unprepared to deal with the threat of the Ebola virus arriving in Britain, a union leader has said.

It comes after the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond concluded a meeting of the Government's emergency committee Cobra by trying to reassure the public that the disease was "not a significant risk to the UK".

Public Health England has told The Independent that it has been briefing the UK Border Agency, airlines, doctors and Government departments on what needs to happen if a person with Ebola arrives.

But speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight programme, the leader of the Immigration Service Union said her members were very concerned and did not know what they were supposed to do if they suspected the worst.

Lucy Moreton said: "They serve on the front line; they are the first point of contact usually for people coming off an aircraft and the concern is what do they do if they're confronted with someone that doesn't appear well who appears at the border.

Read more:
Philip Hammond says UK 'ready' for Ebola outbreak
What is Ebola? The signs, source and symptoms
UK doctors and border officials warned on Ebola
The 10 biggest threats to the world's health

"There is no health facility at the border, there is no containment facility and until extremely recently there has been no guidance issued to staff at all as to what they should do."

Ms Moreton said the union had repeatedly received calls from its members asking for further guidance on what to do - and how they could protect themselves - but said she and other union leaders didn't have the answers.

The Ebola virus is now believed to have killed almost 700 people in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, as well as a single case in Lagos, Nigeria that sparked fears of a much wider international outbreak.

Such high numbers of deaths are not believed to be a risk in the UK, where health officials say better standards of infection control would see any suspected patient isolated in a special unit and potentially diagnosed within 24 hours.

So far the only suspected case of Ebola in Britain - a man who returned to Birmingham Airport from Benin City in Nigeria on Monday - has returned negative after testing, the Department of Health confirmed.

Video: Hammond - 'There is a threat'

Mr Hammond said last night: "The indicators we get is that this is not growing exponentially and that [Ebola] appears to be contained in the worst outbreak areas.

"In terms of the UK, the issue is about the possibility of someone who has contracted the disease in Africa getting sick here. It is not about the disease spreading in the UK. We have different standards of infection control."

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, also attended the Cobra meeting and said the NHS had scientists and doctors with "a lot of experience dealing with dangerous infectious diseases".

Both agreed that the best action the UK could take on Ebola was to help deal with the situation at source in West Africa - which remains dire.

Speaking in an interview with Metro, a doctor from Manchester described how medical practitioners in Sierra Leone were struggling to cope with the pressure.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond chaired the Cobra meeting Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond chaired the Cobra meeting Benjamin Black said he had worked 24-hour shifts at a clinic in the southern city of Bo, and that the health infrastructure there was "overwhelmed". Dr Black called for greater support for agencies such as Medecins Sans Frontieres working in the region.

A number of healthcare workers fighting the outbreak have themselves been struck down with the disease. Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor, Sheikh Umar Khan, described as a "national hero", died on Tuesday, shortly after three nurses working with him also died. An American doctor, Kent Brantly, is in intensive care in Monrovia, Liberia, after contracting the disease.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Technician - 1st Line

£19000 - £21000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPOR...

Special Needs Teaching Assistant

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Special Educational Needs Teach...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London