DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Health (Leo Varadkar) by Deputy Martin Heydon for ORAL ANSWER on 30/09/2014

To ask the Minister for Health if he will provide an update on the measures the State has in place to deal with potential epidemics, particularly in view of the ongoing Ebola crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
– Martin Heydon T.D.

REPLY. Emergency Planning in Ireland is structured around the “Lead Government Department” principle.  There are currently 41 emergency types, each with a Lead Government Department (LGD) set out in Annex ‘A’ to Strategic Emergency Planning Guidance.  The Government Department that is responsible for an activity in normal conditions retains that responsibility during a major emergency.  When an emergency occurs it is the responsibility of the relevant lead Government Department to chair the National Co-ordination Group (NCG) which deals with the relevant emergency.
The Department of Health is currently the LGD for two emergency types:

  • Pandemic influenza and other public health emergencies
  • Biological incidents (where incident is primarily s public health incident).

Consequently my Department would be responsible for calling and chairing a meeting of the National Co-ordination Group should this be necessary for dealing with issues arising from any outbreak of pandemic influenza or other public health emergencies.
EU Decision No 1082/2013/EU of the European Parliament  on serious cross-border threats to health agreed under the Irish Presidency came into force in November, 2013.  The Decision provides a coherent framework for tackling all serious cross-border public health threats by addressing three main areas: preparedness and response planning; risk monitoring and assessment; risk management and crisis communication.
The Health Service Executive Emerging Viral Threats Group and the Ebola Scientific Advisory Group have met recently to review the situation and approve national guidance for Ebola and other emerging viral threats to health.  The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has issued this guidance to hospitals and GPs, including an algorithm for the the assessment of viral haemorrhagic fevers (VHFs), clinical assessment forms and advice for healthcare workers, including humanitarian aid workers, returning to or coming to Ireland following travel from an area affected by the Ebola Virus Disease.  The situation continues to be monitored.
In conclusion, considerable public health planning is underway with a range of bodies and professionals in relation to the implications of the Ebola emergency in West Africa.