Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 11 of Session 2002-03, dated 16 April 2003


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today urged the health service to be better prepared for the major incidents that could result from terrorist attack. 

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 11th Report of this Session, which examined the Department of Health's arrangements for ensuring the effectiveness of NHS major incident planning, and the arrangements in health authorities, acute trusts and ambulance trusts to prepare for possible major incidents.

The Committee found that parts of the NHS were not well prepared to handle the emerging threats from nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological incidents.  The Department lacked a full picture of the risks involved across the country, or means of ensuring that each region had plans, training and equipment in place consistent with those risks. The full audit of major incident plans ahead of the creation of the Health Protection Agency in April 2003 provides a baseline for improvement.  But this and the allocation of resources needs to be founded in a more rigorous national risk assessment developed with other organisations such as the fire service, the police service and local authorities.

Poor communications can be a major weakness in the effective handling of major incidents at the scene. Yet many major incident plans did not properly cover communications issues, communication plans were not tested as often as they should be, co-operation with other agencies such as the fire service and local authorities was patchy, and there was a need to improve communications across administrative areas such as regions and counties.

The Department has still not found an effective way of disseminating lessons from actual major incidents, and could do more to learn from other countries.  The proposed new national major incident database is one way of sharing best practice across the country, and should be given priority.

Mr Leigh said today:

"At a time of heightened risk of terrorist attacks, it is worrying that parts of the NHS are not fully prepared to handle the emerging threats from nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological incidents. I am pleased that there has been some progress in recent months but there is an urgent need for the Department of Health to ensure that each region has the necessary plans, training and equipment in place."

Click here to view the Report