A DEFRA-led simulation exercise to test contingency plans in place to respond to large-scale disease outbreaks has flagged up vulnerabilities within the system, according to vets who took part.
A DEFRA-led simulation exercise to test contingency plans in place to respond to large-scale disease outbreaks has flagged up vulnerabilities within the system, according to veterinarians who took part in the event.
Operation Silver Birch presented Government officials, vets and farming leaders with a realistic foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak scenario. DEFRA conducted its exercise, involving Animal Health officials, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, on November 9 and 10.
The BVA was involved with the two days but also used the opportunity to test its responses and those of specialist divisions during the week leading up to the DEFRA exercise. The DEFRA scenario simulated day seven and eight of an outbreak only, while the BVA exercise simulated an outbreak from day one through to day eight.
Among the weaknesses identified by the BVA during the two days of DEFRA’s exercise were problems in the Government’s communication processes and in the way it recruits contingency official veterinarians (OVs).
Outlining concerns, BVA president Harvey Locke told vetsonline: “There were problems with accessing the information being put out to stakeholders by DEFRA due to difficulties accessing the network. These problems need to be resolved to ensure the communication between DEFRA and other organisations is seamless.”
He also said: “A major issue affecting our profession, which became clear during the exercise, is the lack of clear arrangements and terms and conditions for recruiting contingency OVs. There is an urgent need for these arrangements to be agreed and put in place before a real outbreak of any exotic notifiable disease occurs.”
Following his participation in the exercise, vet Paul Roger (president of the Yorkshire Veterinary Society) expressed the view that Silver Birch showed that the Government is inadequately prepared for large-scale disease outbreaks.
He said: “This exercise has shown that we have already forgotten some of the lessons that we should have learned from 2001. The 2001 outbreak showed us how easy it is, if a disease doesn’t occur for over a number of years, for lessons of previous outbreaks to be lost in time.”
Asked to comment on what was learned from the exercise, a DEFRA spokesman said: “There will be a full ‘lessons identified’ review of exercise Silver Birch, and the Lessons to be Learned Report will be published later in the year.”
- For further details, see next week’s Veterinary Times (Vol.41, No.2).