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Last Updated: Monday, 28 June, 2004, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
NHS 'couldn't cope with attack'
By Ray Dunne
BBC News Online health staff in Llandudno

Health staff during attack drill
The NHS has plans in place to deal with a major attack
The NHS would struggle to cope if terrorists launched a major attack in the UK, it has been claimed.

Doctors attending the British Medical Association's annual conference in Llandudno said urgent action is needed to ensure the health service can cope.

They called for better planning and more money so that plans can be put in place to deal with what they called "imminent terrorist attacks".

The Department of Health said action has been taken to prepare the NHS.

Commons protest

But Dr Kumar Kotegaonkar, a GP in Bury, cited the recent powder protest in parliament as evidence that not enough is being doing.

Members of Fathers 4 Justice threw a condom filled with what turned out to be harmless purple powder into the Commons chamber during prime minister's questions in May.

There is a heck of a lot of work going on.
Dr Peter Holden, BMA
MPs left the chamber immediately after the attack, in breach of guidelines which suggest they should have remained where they were until more was known about the nature of the attack and the risk to people outside.

"The way MPs behaved, it could have been a catastrophe," said Dr Kotegaonkar.

"Our lack of experience can only be dealt with by planning and training."

Dr Harvey Gordon, a GP in Surrey, criticised a recent document from the Health Protection Agency designed to help doctors identify those caught up in a bio terrorist attack.

It outlines the symptoms of a range of serious diseases, including Sars and smallpox. But it also advises doctors not to jump to conclusions since the early symptoms of many of these diseases are similar to flu.

"It's absolutely ridiculous," said Dr Gordon.

James Johnson, chairman of the BMA, said more could be done to ensure the NHS is prepared.

"Quite a lot of work is being done," he said. "But there is a lot more work to do."

Dr Peter Holden, a member of the BMA's GPs committee, has been working with the Health Protection Agency on emergency planning.

He insisted efforts are being made to ensure the NHS could cope in the event of an attack.

"There is a heck of a lot of work going on," he told the conference.

Millions spent

The Department of Health said millions have been spent preparing the NHS.

"In 2002/03, the Department of Health allocated 85m to strengthen national and regional resilience to ensure the NHS is prepared and equipped to deal with chemical, biological and radiological threats to the public.

"For 2003/2004, the department allocated 98.5m. That has funded medical countermeasures such as vaccines, antibiotics and antidotes - available on a 24 x 7 basis - as well as personal protective and other equipment."

More than 500 doctors are attending the BMA annual conference, which runs until Thursday.


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