COMMONS

Science in emergencies: UK lessons from Ebola inquiry launched

20 July 2015

As health officials in Liberia warn that new cases of Ebola are being identified, only months after the country was declared free of the virus, the Science and Technology Committee is launching an inquiry into the lessons from this global health crisis for the UK about the use of scientific advice in similar emergencies.

Nicola Blackwood, MP said:

“The Ebola outbreak devastated communities across West Africa and exposed failings in both the global and UK response to disease epidemics. With new cases recently reported in Liberia and Sierra Leone, it is vital we scrutinise what lessons the UK can learn from the Ebola epidemic.

The UK could be faced with other disease emergencies in future, such as a global flu pandemic. To save lives and protect our population it is essential that we can mobilise scientific advice rapidly and effectively to prepare for and respond to such emergencies.” 

In the latest, publicly available National Risk Register (PDF 439.30 KB), the Government singled out pandemic influenza, coastal flooding, catastrophic terrorist attacks, and widespread electricity failure as the four “highest priority risks” for the UK. Scientific advice and evidence should play a critical role in responses to these types of crises. A Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), chaired by the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, is designed to provide scientific and technical advice to support government decision making for the duration of an emergency. Since the Science and Technology's Committee’s 2011 report on Scientific advice and evidence in emergencies, SAGEs have been constituted for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the 2013-2014 winter floods and, most recently, the Ebola outbreak.

The initial response to the Ebola outbreak last year was widely criticised for being inadequate and slow. The Science and Technology Committee has decided to examine what lessons have been drawn concerning the use of scientific advice in the UK for similar disease outbreak emergencies in future. The Committee invites written submissions by Monday 7 September 2015 on:

  • How prepared is the Government for a similar type of emergency? Is it effectively mitigating and increasing resilience to the disease hazards identified in the National Risk Register? 
  • What lessons were, or should have been, drawn from the Ebola emergency for gathering, assessing, using and communicating scientific advice across Government during this type of emergency?
  • How successful was the Government in communicating advice to the UK public about the emergency? 
  • Since the Ebola emergency, how well has scientific advice been used to inform or revise the Government’s planned response to similar emergencies in future?
  • Could the evidence base and sources of scientific advice to Government on emergency mitigation, planning and response be improved? If so, how?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses in the system for weighting the risk of a future Ebola-type emergency, including the possible scale of impacts for the UK and their likelihood?

Submitting written evidence

Submit written evidence via our inquiry page.

The personal information you supply will be processed in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 for the purposes of attributing the evidence you submit and contacting you as necessary in connection with its processing. The Clerk of the House of Commons is the data controller for the purposes of the Act. We may also ask you to comment on the process of submitting evidence via the web portal so that we can look to make improvements. If you have any queries or concerns about the collection and use of this information or do not wish your details to be used for the purpose of collecting feedback, please email the Committee  providing your full name, address, and if relevant your organisation.

Each submission should:

  1. be in Word format with as little use logos as possible
  2. have numbered paragraphs 
  3. include a declaration of interests.

Please note that:

  • Material already published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission, but may be referred to within a proposed memorandum, in which case a hard copy of the published work should be included.
  • Memoranda submitted must be kept confidential until published by the Committee, unless publication by the person or organisation submitting it is specifically authorised. 
  • Once submitted, evidence is the property of the Committee. The Committee normally, though not always, chooses to make public the written evidence it receives, by publishing it on the internet (where it will be searchable), by printing it or by making it available through the Parliamentary Archives. If there is any information you believe to be sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence. 
  • Select Committees are unable to investigate individual cases.

Further information

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