The UK’s national health networks, which cover almost a quarter of the population, have not done enough to tackle the Ebola outbreak, a damning new report has found.
The report, commissioned by the Government’s Department of Health, is the most detailed assessment of the UK’s response to the virus to date and says it is in desperate need of a “transformational” overhaul.
It also comes as Prime Minister David Cameron launches a series of “emergency measures” designed to stem the spread of the virus, with the Government releasing a £2 billion package for public services across the country on Wednesday.
“We need to get our health systems up to scratch.
This is not just about what we can do to tackle Ebola, but also what we are going to do to prepare for a long and difficult future,” said Dr Michael O’Leary, the report’s author and an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia’s Institute of Public Health.
Health systems across the UK are in dire need of “transformative” reforms, the Government says.
In the short term, there are a range of measures being proposed, including: a shift from using public transport to private transport to reduce the number of cars on the road, and from public-sector hospitals to community-based hospitals.
Further reforms could include the creation of “public-private partnerships” to support the delivery of public services, such as providing free primary care for people with a chronic condition.
These “public partnerships” would include an emphasis on using public services to reduce demand for care, rather than just providing it, according to the report.
A more immediate priority would be the creation or expansion of “community-based” care for vulnerable populations such as people with mental health or physical health problems, and in particular, the provision of “psychosocial support” to those who are most vulnerable.
Dr O’Donnell said there was a need for “radical change” in how the NHS operates, with services increasingly focussed on “dramatic” treatments.
For example, the number and frequency of hospital admissions have decreased since the beginning of the epidemic, he said, while hospital-acquired infections have dropped.
He said the NHS was now providing a “much higher quality” of care, but that it had become increasingly “unnecessarily focused on the prevention of infection”.
“What we are seeing is a failure of care and a failure to deliver care,” he said.
According to the latest figures, there have been more than 11,000 new infections, compared to 9,000 in January, with a further 2,000 confirmed cases.
Experts are concerned about the UK government’s approach to tackling the outbreak.
Last week, the government said it was considering extending a voluntary quarantine policy for people arriving from the Ebola-hit countries of Guinea and Liberia to include all people arriving in England, Scotland and Wales, and that it would consider making the same decision for travellers from Sierra Leone and Guinea.
But Dr O’Connell said: “The issue is that, in some respects, the UK is not doing a very good job of communicating the message to the public that we are responding effectively to this outbreak.”
He added: “We are still trying to get the message out, and we need to do that to make sure people understand what is happening.”