Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)|
17 MARCH 2008
Q140 Mr Boswell: On record keeping
and reporting, if it is RIDDOR it requires at least a judgment
that a dangerous incident has occurred. Is it in your mind that
you might have either a standard format, which would be quite
a simple thing, or a protocol which would drive everyone at least
to report when something had gone missing?
Dr Logan: Yes.
Q141 Mr Boswell: It would seem to
me, certainly at level four and presumably level three, potentially
a dangerous incident.
Dr Logan: Yes.
Q142 Mr Boswell: The other one is
about the staff side. We have heard quite a lot about training
this afternoon. Is it sufficient that staff working with dangerous
pathogens are trained at a local level or should there be nationally
or centrally recognised training programmes, minimum standards
and so forth? What is your take on that?
Dr Penrose: Clearly training is
something that our inspectors focus on very intensively during
their inspections because they are looking at competence and how
you define competence. Inspectors need to leave that site assured
that the people doing the work are fit to do that work. The regulatory
requirement is that it is left to individual organisations and
sites as to how they want to train their staff. George Griffin
alluded to training for diagnostic staff. In the university setting
there is not that legal requirement for all staff to be trained
to a common level but as inspectors we make sure we interview
staff. We interview PhD students. We will take them away from
their line manager to give them the opportunity to say what training
they have had and what they understand by the work they are doing
and what are the hazards. In practice we find that organisations
do train their staff.
Q143 Mr Boswell: When you are inspecting,
do you observe staff in operation?
Dr Penrose: We do.
Q144 Mr Boswell: Would they be aware
of where you came from? Would you be a visiting academic as far
as they were concerned?
Dr Penrose: If I am talking to
somebody I will take them aside and introduce myself and say what
I am doing. Through observations and questioning you can get a
good feel for what their competence level is. If somebody is quite
happy to say, "I have never been trained in this field"
we will pursue that. We can observe people and say, "Why
are you doing it that way?" You can see by the way the laboratory
is set up as to what custom and practice is. By and large people
treat this seriously because they are the ones that can get infected,
particularly with the human pathogens, because they have their
own health and safety and that of colleagues. In terms of the
wider initiatives, it is something that has been looked at on
a number of occasions in terms of biosafety training and I am
aware that there is a group at the Institute for Safety in Technology
and Research, a separate group, looking at trying to standardise
biological safety and training but it is not mandatory.
Q145 Mr Boswell: In your reporting
now, would you be able to recommend that an individual should
undergo some further training on the basis of what you have seen
or indeed that some laboratories should be reconfigured on the
basis that people are not handling the stuff as you would like
Dr Penrose: Absolutely. We will
give a comment on the training levels that we have observed and
we will look at logbooks and training records. If that is not
appropriate, we will raise that with the nominated senior manager
Q146 Mr Boswell: To go back to the
point you made about a group looking at the idea of common standards,
just to be clear, that is something on the whole in principle
that you would favour?
Dr Penrose: Yes. HSE are supporting
Q147 Dr Iddon: Regarding a strategic
overview of the number and capacity of CL3 and CL4 laboratories,
in your opinion should there be one body that does this? If so,
should it be the HSE? I think I should start with Defra first.
Dr Coulson: One body that oversees
the capacity that we have in the UK?
Q148 Dr Iddon: The capacity and number
of CL3 and CL4 laboratories. Should it be one body?
Dr Coulson: There needs to be
a number of people involved. The main customers for the research
need to be involved. There is the issue of what we need in order
to deliver the outcomes that we need. I have mentioned the exotic
disease response and developing new control strategies as part
of Defra's need. Obviously the Department of Health will have
a view on that. We have heard that for surge capacity in the outbreak
of an emergent disease we need to take a view of what the UK has
and we certainly have discussionsHSE have been involved
in them as wellwith the ACDP community and Defra's community
about how we might use each other's facilities in a national crisis.
We do need to look with these very expensive facilities at how
we get the best use out of them for the UK.
Q149 Dr Iddon: What you are telling
me is that there are a lot of different organisations involved.
This was the case with marine safety until we had three critical
disasters. I will not name them all but one of them was the Torrey
Canyon disaster and the government decided that the different
units were not talking to one another so they set up one person
in one organisation, a SOSREP, a Secretary of State's representative
who takes control in an extreme emergency. My question really
was: should somebody take the strategic overview and, in an extreme
emergency, pull all these organisations together and be responsible
for making them work? You did not answer my question, in other
words. You just told me who was involved.
Dr Coulson: There is not somebody
with that strategic ability to take control at the moment, as
far as I am aware.
Q150 Dr Iddon: The question was do
you think there should be and, if so, should it be the HSE.
Dr Coulson: At the moment I have
not seen that that is a gap. I think the community does work together
and talk to each other and the indications we have had from those
discussions with people who own other facilities are that they
would make them available. If Defra had a new, emerging animal
disease and needed to do work in one of the other facilities,
a health facility or an MoD facility, I think that would be facilitated
at the moment.
Q151 Dr Iddon: What does the HSE
think? Are you agreeing with that proposal or do you disagree
Dr Logan: I do not think it is
the job of the regulator, the people regulating the safety standards
in those laboratories, to be looking at having an overview as
to whether there is sufficient capacity. There is a lot of capacity
at containment level three in particular across the UK. We often
see laboratories that are under-utilised. They are containment
level three laboratories that are not being used at containment
level three because they do not have the work going through them.
A lot of different universities and organisations have facilities
like that. At containment level four there are ten facilities.
There does appear to be a reasonable level of capacity. The only
one that was mentioned earlier is ACDP level four large animal
capacity and there is probably a decision for Defra and some people
in government to be made as to whether that capacity is needed.
Q152 Chairman: I do not feel that
is satisfactory, if I am perfectly frank, from either of you in
answer to Dr Iddon's question. Correct me if I am wrong, Dr Coulson.
We now appear to have a system whereby nobody really takes a strategic
oversight in terms of how much capacity we need. You said you
think that there were people who would be able to loan you facilities
if there was a serious outbreak but you do not particularly know.
Is there a group that comes together to discuss overall capacity?
Who brings that group together and who does it report to?
Dr Coulson: I am not aware that
there is a standing group that looks at that because the capacity
changes in incremental steps. When we were reviewing the rebuild
at Pirbright, a group came together and the central question was:
do we need to rebuild the facilities at Pirbright post 2001. Do
we need that capability? That group looked at the whole UK situation.
It had people from all the various groups and it came to the conclusion
that, yes, we did need a national centre and Pirbright was the
best place for that. Until there is another new, incremental change
in the capability, that group would not come together again.
Q153 Chairman: Who is this group?
Dr Coulson: It was an ad hoc
group put together by Defra under the deputy chief veterinary
officer at the time who ran it, who brought together people from
a variety of backgrounds in the containment world who did a review
of whether Defra needed to invest.
Q154 Chairman: Until there is another
problem, you do not meet?
Dr Coulson: That was a specific
meeting to decide whether to invest in a rebuild of the facilities
at the Pirbright site.
Chairman: I understand that but the question
that Dr Iddon was asking which you did not appear to give a reply
to was: do you feel that there ought to be a standing group that
meets on a regular basis, whatever "regular" means,
in order to assess whether we have sufficient capacity and, if
not, to do something about it?
Q155 Dr Iddon: It would not have
to be a group. You have mentioned the chief medical officer. I
was thinking in terms of the chief scientific adviser as well.
Sir David King took a big interest during the foot and mouth outbreak
and I think it was he that pulled a lot of things together and
made things happen. If they had not happened, in my opinion, we
would not have got on top of that outbreak. I agree with the Chairman.
It seems a very unsatisfactory situation where there is no body
or organisation having this over-arching look at what is going
on in this area.
Mrs Lysons: There are inter-laboratory
networks which meet regularly, which are senior directors of veterinary
and medical laboratories. One of our approaches in assessing capacity,
particularly if we need more capacity, would be to go to the relevant
laboratory that we normally go to and say, "How would you
cope with a ten fold increase in the demand?" They would
use that network to tell us how they would cope.
Q156 Mr Boswell: I suspecttell
me if I am wrongthat there are two questions bearing on
this which are slightly different. One is what you might call
the strategic view of what capacity is needed for research and
to assess the progress of these difficult pathogens. The second
one is the crash plan you have to adopt when you have a major
outbreak and you have to assess a lot of samples and so forth.
Can you clarify that that is your understanding and I am not adrift
on that? I suspect the inference, looking at the Defra side of
the table, is that one way or anotheras indeed Pirbright
showed in 2001it is possible to scale up very quickly if
it is necessary to do this work. You are not worried about that?
Dr Coulson: No. My answer was
related to the strategic review and there is also this other mechanism
for the more tactical review.
Q157 Mr Boswell: This is more to
the HSE side. You did indicate a minute ago that there might well
be a surplus of capacity at level three. Given that this is not
absolutely cost freeit is expensive for the institutions
to maintain; there is the possibility of escape at any one time
and we have discussed urban locations for exampleis nobody
looking at this at all to say that perhaps after all we have more
than we need and could we encourage some measure of agreed rationalisation?
Dr Logan: We have not taken that
approach at the moment. We often get approached by organisations
that want to set up a new laboratory and we encourage them to
come to HSE to talk about commissioning and the standards that
would be needed. We point out the difficulties in maintaining
a level three facility if they are going to need it.
Q158 Mr Boswell: For example, there
is no brokering function. You could not say, "We know that
there is surplus there. Why do you not bolt into that rather than
create your own?"?
Dr Logan: In another organisation?
Q159 Mr Boswell: Yes.
Dr Logan: They are all different
organisations and that is the difficulty.