BEHIND THE HEADLINES: BMA critical of Government's anthrax updates

The Government is planning an information campaign to allay public

fears over the threat of bioterrorism.



But the PR element to its wider contingency plan - which deals with the

possibility of anthrax attacks - was this week criticised by the British

Medical Association for keeping the public and health professionals in

the dark.



In a bid to quell these concerns, The Public Health Laboratory Service

has issued guidance to doctors on the matter in its weekly disease

control report. Also, through the Department of Health, chief medical

officer Professor Liam Donaldson was put before the media to speak of

his faith in the contingency plans.



DoH spokeswoman Kate Buchanan said more information would be made

available but some would still be suppressed for security reasons.



As PRWeek went to press there was no reported evidence of an anthrax

attack in Britain, though scares in Liverpool and London required police

to evacuate buildings in both cities. In the US, media outlets have been

targeted and earlier this week a letter containing anthrax spores was

sent to US Senate majority leader Tom Daschle.



The Government contingency plan, which was in place before the US

bio-attacks, is being co-ordinated by the Cabinet Office, with all

government departments involved.



The Government has for decades been aware of the threat of bioterrorism.

In the 1950s harmless spores were put in the London Underground by the

Government to see how potentially fatal bacteria, such as anthrax, could

spread.



Of the current measuresBuchanan says: 'The contingency plan was there.

What happened in America was about gearing up that plan.'



Despite this pledge of further information, the BMA remains sceptical of

the Government's promise. Head of communications Nigel Duncan says: 'The

Government says doctors have been updated about anthrax and given

information, but have they? Have all 34,000 received the information?

Patients are still concerned and so are doctors.'



While recognising the need to avoid creating a public scare or revealing

material that could undermine the country's security, the BMA is

continuing to campaign for more freely available information.



'This is about confidence and for the public to have that, they need

information. The Government needs to credit the public with more

intelligence,' Duncan adds.



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