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Hampstead becomes UK’s ‘front line’ of defence against Ebola outbreak

13:00 07 August 2014

'We're well equipped to deal with any Ebola infection' say Olly Carpeter and consultant Dr Stephen Mepham in the Royal Free's infectious disease unit. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

Hampstead has become a front line of defence against the potential spread of Ebola – with the Royal Free Hospital having the country’s only two beds fully equipped to deal with infections.

The hospital in Pond Street has the UK’s only fully operational unit of its kind to prevent the spread of the highly infectious disease, after NHS England admitted beds at a secondary unit in Newcastle “were not yet ready”.

Doctors at the Royal Free’s Infectious Diseases Unit said the risk to the UK remained small but said plans to transform other parts of the hospital into isolation wards had been made should more than two infected patients arrive for treatment.

Dr Stephen Mepham, one of the unit’s infectious diseases consultants, said: “This is an unprecedented outbreak and the biggest the world has had to deal with.

“Normally outbreaks would have petered out by now [but] west African countries have a lack of resources to properly deal with the disease. We have beds to treat two patients and should there be more infections we would create an overspill ward.

“You could make a whole ward dedicated to treating Ebola, but I think that would be overkill. We’ve never had Ebola here. There’s obviously a balance to be struck.

“But residents in the UK shouldn’t be concerned. We’re well equipped to deal with any Ebola infection.”

Two infected American aid workers were flown to the US from Liberia this week to be treated in secure units similar to those at the Royal Free.

They are two of 1,300 thought to be infected. The illness has a 50 to 90 per cent mortality rate, no known cure and has killed almost 900 in this outbreak.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned its spread “is moving faster than our efforts to control it”.

Should a UK national be infected with Ebola while abroad, they may be transported by the RAF and taken to Hampstead for treatment at the Royal Free.

A “less used” area of the hospital would then be shut down, Dr Mepham said, as the patient is transported to a ward where there are two beds surrounded by isolator tents, air pressure units and full body suits.

While concerns have been raised over the lack of training given to border staff to spot signs of infected travellers, no cases of Ebola have ever been reported in the UK. The country’s record of dealing with the threat from infectious diseases in the past has been praised.

But attention has been focused in recent weeks on the perceived failure of global health policies.

Dr Mepham added: “It is perhaps an indictment on the international community that the countries in West Africa haven’t had the resources to properly deal with the crisis.”

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