Doctors in cross-border co-operation plea to combat bird flu

Public health doctors today demanded much greater cross-border cooperation to deal with the threat of bird flu hitting Ireland.

Public health doctors today demanded much greater cross-border cooperation to deal with the threat of bird flu hitting Ireland.

Delegates attending a conference said proper measures needed to be put in place after one claimed no public health observers from the Republic attended a recent exercise on the frontier.

Dr Colin Hamilton, consultant in public health for the Western Area said: “Dying swans don’t care about borders. I think this is an appallingly cavalier attitude for an EU partner to take.”

Although the UK has only seen one instance of a wild bird suffering from the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu, found washed up in a coastal town in Scotland, scientists are concerned that the virus could mutate into a form easily spread between human, leading to a flu pandemic.

Experts accept it is only a matter of time before a new flu pandemic, which could spread rapidly to most countries.

In the UK, it is estimated that a new pandemic could kill more than 50,000 people.

The Government must reverse cuts to the Health Protection Agency’s funding in the face of an increasing threat of a flu pandemic, public health doctors urged.

The British Medical Association’s Committee for Public Health Medicine and Community Health said the HPA, which will have a key role in dealing with a human flu pandemic, must be given more funding for its responsibilities.

Stephen Watkins, director of public health in Stockport, said: “The idea that the HPA should be looking to save on spending when it should be setting out to prepare for a flu pandemic that is looking likely is quite appalling.”

Sir Alexander Macara, a member of the Public Health Committee, said the lack of funding was indicative of the “mismatch between the fine words from the Department of Health and the mouth of that alien from another planet, Patricia Hewitt, the mismatch between what they say and do”.

He said: “How can they claim to be concerned about public health, when, in the face of this threat, they cut funding to the body which will be responsible if we find ourselves in trouble to bail us out?”

Dr Richard Turner, consultant in public health in Yorkshire, also called for better protection for doctors who would be at the front line of treating patients.

He said: “I think the HPA needs to increase funding to protect doctors and staff.”

Delegates at today’s conference in London passed the motion urging the Department of Health to reverse cuts to the funding of the HPA and provide additional funding. They also called for the Committee for Public Health Medicine and Community Health and the BMA Council to explore ways to lobby for a reversal of the current policy.

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