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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
Action plan to tackle TB launched
TB bacterium
TB is a respiratory disease
The government has set out its action plan for tackling the rise in tuberculosis cases.

Its TB Action Plan for England outlines a series of measures including better screening for high-risk groups.

Cases of the disease have risen by 25% in England over the last 10 years, and London has been labelled as a 'TB hotspot'.

TB experts said the plan was welcome, but warned extra staff were needed to deal with the rising number of cases.

KEY POINTS
Better screening programmes
Multi-lingual and culturally sensitive information
Higher vaccination coverage of babies in high-risk groups
Stronger TB surveillance in prisons
DNA bacterial screening to track the disease
More research into drugs and vaccines

TB is a contagious airborne bacterial respiratory disease which causes severe lung problems, but it can be present without causing any symptoms until the patient becomes run-down or the immune system is damaged.

It can usually be treated by a six-month course of drugs, but in many developing countries it is often fatal.

Over 6,000 people were newly diagnosed with TB in England in 2002.

Around 350 people die from the disease each year.

Most cases occur among people in inner cities - two in every five cases are in London.

Nearly two-thirds of people with TB were born abroad, and people most at risk of contracting the disease have lived or worked in parts of the world where TB is common.

'It can be halted'

The plan, promised over two years ago by the government, also says surveillance should be improved so the disease can be monitored more effectively.

It also calls for DNA bacterial testing to be used to track the spread of the disease within communities.

Each TB patient should also have a named case manager, it says.

Launching the plan, Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, said: "In our battle against tuberculosis, the disease has regained the upper hand. We need to get back to public health basics.

"Identifying the high risk groups early, ensuring effective treatment for them and using modern laboratory techniques to track the disease are all vital control measures.

"Experience elsewhere has shown that the march of TB can be halted.

"Our long-term goal is to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, TB in this country."

But Dr Richard Russell of the British Thoracic Society (BTS) said that the plan would have little impact unless extra staff and funding were put in to support it.

"Without adequate resources to back it up, there is concern that this may amount to being an in-action plan.

"To make it work, the NHS needs an additional 40 specialist doctors supported by 100 specialist nurses with the right equipment to do their job properly.

"Having a national plan for TB is one thing, having the resources to implement it is another entirely."

Awareness

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it had set a target of one specialist nurse for every 50 TB patients nationally and one in 40 for patients in London.

The Health Protection Agency said a review of how an on-going TB outbreak in London had been managed supported the need for early identification of cases and completing treatment courses.

Dr Marc Lipman, consultant physician in respiratory and HIV medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in London, said: "Right across the board where vulnerable people are it is crucial to ensure that TB is considered in at risk individuals, where it must be detected early and treated adequately. Such places include hostels for the homeless and prisons for example.

"The public must be made more aware of this infectious disease if we are to stop further outbreaks occurring."

Paul Sommerfeld, chair of the charity TB Alert, welcomed a call to help international efforts to tackle the disease, adding: "TB can never be fully controlled in Britain until it is controlled worldwide."

Shadow Health Minister Dr Andrew Murrison said: "We were promised this report two years ago. In the meantime TB has increased significantly and avoidably.

"This is too little too late, and demonstrates Labour has not made public health a priority. The report is vague about funding and needs to be more specific about who the 'high risk groups' are."


SEE ALSO:
TB test to slash infection rates
12 Aug 04  |  Health
Tuberculosis
08 Feb 03  |  Medical notes


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