Specialist team on standby to tackle disease outbreaks across the globe

Updated: 

A specialist UK team of health experts has been set up to respond to global disease outbreaks within 48 hours.

The fully operational specialist team of medics, scientists and academics will be on standby from Tuesday, the Department of Health announced.

The team will be able to respond to urgent requests from countries around the world, flying in to help tackle outbreaks of potentially deadly disease.

The Department of Health said the Ebola outbreak had highlighted the need for countries to establish teams that could try to stem diseases before they spread far and wide.

The Government is supporting the plan with £20 million over the next five years.

Public health minister Nicola Blackwood said: "Ebola shook the world and brave experts from the UK led the global response in Sierra Leone.

"The ability to deploy emergency support to investigate and respond to disease outbreaks within 48 hours will save lives, prevent further outbreaks and cement the UK's position as a leader in global health security."

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England (PHE), which will run the project with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "Speed is key in tackling infectious disease, and with this new capability we can now deploy specialists anywhere in the world within 48 hours, saving and protecting lives where an outbreak starts and helping to keep the UK safe at home."

England's chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: "Diseases can spread rapidly and do not respect borders.

"The most effective way to protect the UK is to stop diseases spreading at the source and prevent disease from travelling to different parts of the world.

"Time is crucial in containing an outbreak and this new expert team will support countries in preventing local outbreaks becoming global epidemics."

The specialist team will also research how outbreaks can be managed and will train public health reservists so any response to a crisis can be scaled up.

It will also work in developing countries, training people on the ground, including in how to prevent the spread of infection.