Suspected Ebola patient arrives at Lewisham hospital and allegedly throws staff into panic

Lewisham hospital
Lewisham Hospital, South London, where the patient arrived yesterday

Allegations were made yesterday that when a suspected Ebola patient walked into A&E at Lewisham Hospital on Saturday the hospital was inadequately prepared to deal with the situation.

A hospital insider said that some staff refused to go near the patient, a man who feared he may have the potentially deadly virus after arriving in Britain two weeks ago from Sierra Leone. The source also suggested that correct measures were not taken to prevent the virus spreading since the man was allowed to have visitors and use a communal toilet. “The hospital is unprepared. Staff are panicking and scared for their safety,” said the insider.

It turned out later that the man did not in fact have the virus.

A spokesman for the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust tried to reassure the public that hospital staff are trained and prepared to deal with cases of Ebola. “It's important to stress that we did follow robust and established systems that are in place to manage and care for people with suspected infectious diseases,” said the spokesperson. They added: “Following a clinical assessment and advice from the Imported Fever Service Unit, the patient was identified as "low risk" for Ebola. They were always treated in isolation and all staff wore appropriate protective clothing. […] As a low risk patient, they were allowed to see a visitor under controlled conditions, meaning the visitor was given protective clothing for the duration of the visit.” The spokesperson also defended the reaction of some staff saying, “We understand that cases like this can be alarming for staff, and it's unfortunate someone has raised concerns publicly when the Trust did follow best practice guidelines. […] We will be speaking to staff to remind them of our protocols and procedures for infection control and to encourage them to let us know if they need any additional support.”

Currently the specialist Royal Free Hospital in north London is the only hospital in Britain fully equipped to deal with infected patients, with an ‘Ebola-proof’ isolation unit.

When Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander asked Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt about the incident in the House of Commons yesterday Hunt said that although the correct procedures were followed it had shown how much more needs to be done to prepare for the virus arriving in the UK. “We have […] learned from what happened there the importance of making sure that the guidance is widely understood,” said Mr Hunt. He also told MPs that only a “handful” of Ebola cases are expected to appear in the UK over the next three months.

Public Health England has already begun screening passengers arriving from Ebola-affected countries at Heathrow Terminal 1. As of the end of next week, this screening and monitoring will be extended to Gatwick and Eurostar terminals.

Symptoms of Ebola are similar to those of common infections like flu and include fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea, bleeding. The current advice is that if you have these symptoms and have been in contact with anyone who has Ebola then ring 111 first, do not go directly to A&E or a GP. On the other hand, if there has been no contact with Ebola but you have these symptoms, you should seek help from either 111, your GP or A&E, if necessary.