Select Committee on Science and Technology Fourth Report


Executive Summary


Infectious disease is a significant cause of human illness and death. It leads to economic downturns and contributes to social and political instability. Every year worldwide fifteen million people die from an infection. The emergence of infections, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), create wide-spread anxiety and affects global travel and trade. It is widely feared that a global outbreak of a new strain of influenza could result in a repeat experience of 1918 when seventy million people died across the world.

Infectious disease services in England (the devolved administrations have separate arrangements), whilst better than those found in many countries, suffer from problems. The services expected to protect the population from both common and more unusual infection are under-resourced and over-stretched. If this country were to experience a major outbreak of an infection the services may not be able to cope: there is not enough surge capacity. Thus:

we recommend that the Government recognises and addresses the fact that, although England has not experienced major epidemics of infection in recent years, this owes as much to good fortune as to good management. Without improvements we fear that this country will suffer from major epidemics and will continue to see infectious disease take its toll in economic terms, in suffering and in lives.

Arrangements for formal collaboration are poor and lines of accountability unclear. Collaboration is difficult: many organisations and health professionals are involved in fighting infection.

We call on the Minister for Public Health to improve cross-departmental working on infection and to ensure that all relevant organisations understand their roles and responsibilities. We also recommend that the Government create a number of "infection centres". These would develop collaborative working, create a critical mass of expertise and provide a setting for high quality research and training in all aspects of infectious disease.

Committed and competent health professionals work hard to control and prevent infection, yet they are insufficiently supported. We recognise that infectious disease cannot be completely overcome, but improvements should be made in order to ensure that the response as is as effective as possible. In particular there is a need to:

·  Improve collaborative relationships across the services

·  Ensure there are sufficient well-trained health professionals

·  Develop ways of electronic capture, analysis and dissemination of information about infection across relevant organisations

·  Establish clear evidence-based priorities for, and facilitate development of vaccines and diagnostic tests

·  Fund research to provide an evidence base for improving diagnosis, treatment, prevention and control of infection

·  Secure supplies of vaccines in case of epidemics

·  Provide clear advice and information to the public

International collaboration is an essential component of effective services. Global partnerships provide early warning of possible epidemics. We believe that the Government should further facilitate international collaboration by making available resources so that infectious disease experts can be placed on short-term secondments with the WHO and similar bodies.


 
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