HL Deb 15 December 2003 vol 655 cc116-7WA
Lord Dubs

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress is being made to ensure that proper contingency plans are in place to protect the United Kingdom population from a bioterrorist attack with smallpox. [HL443]

Lord Warner

Last December, we announced the steps that the Department of Health was taking to strengthen our plans against any deliberate release of biological agents, including smallpox. That announcement included three main components: improved vaccine stocks; a plan of action; and a cohort of immunised staff.

We have no evidence of a specific threat of smallpox attack on the United Kingdom. However, it is sensible and prudent to ensure that the National Health Service can deal effectively with any potential threat.

Over this last year, we have taken action to increase substantially our stocks of smallpox vaccine, and have announced a contract for a second procurement. This will enable us to provide new vaccine for the whole population, if required.

Our plan of action has been updated and revised following discussion and comment. The plan revisions incorporate valuable input from a wide range of medical experts and groups within the NHS as well as other government departments. Implementation of the plan is being co-ordinated by the Health Protection Agency's (HPA) regional leads. We are today publishing the revised plan, copies of which are available in the Vote Office and can be accessed on the Department of Health website at: www.doh.gov.uk/smallpox/smallpox.htm.

Regional smallpox response groups have been established in England, and core team members vaccinated in advance. We now plan to vaccinate a small number of ambulance workers to assist these groups, and to support the initial response to a smallpox emergency. Corresponding arrangements are being made for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The department's primary strategy is still to contain and "ring vaccinate" around any outbreak.

This work continues to be taken forward under the cross-government civil contingencies machinery for which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has overall responsibility.