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
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
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.