Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Visit to Central Public Health Laboratory, Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS)

  1.  The Sub-Committee visited CPHL PHLS on 23 July 2002. Members present were Lord Haskel, Lord McColl of Dulwich, Lord Oxburgh, Lord Rea, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, Lord Turnberg, Baroness Walmsley, Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe. They were accompanied by Adam Heathfield, Specialist Assistant and Rebecca Neal, Clerk.

  2.  The Committee met Dr Bob Adak, Dr Pat Cane, Professor Brian Duerden, Dr Barry Evans, Dr Robert George, Dr David Livermore, Dr Elizabeth Miller, Dr Gillian Smith and Dr John Watson.

  3.  Issues discussed included syndromic and outcome-focused surveillance, vaccines and impact of molecular epidemiology.


  4.  Passive surveillance depended on micro-organisms being sent to laboratories. Active surveillance required links to information about patients, such as symptoms, outcomes of treatment, as well as information about prescribing.


  5.  TB was on the increase in the UK, mostly in London. There had been 88 people diagnosed with drug resistant tuberculosis in London between 1999-2002. Common factors amongst those people was that they were young people from North London who engaged in recreational drug use, with time either spent in squats or prisons.

  6.  Control of tuberculosis required treating and curing active cases, screening people at high risk of disease (such as people who had been in contact with those with active TB), vaccination by BCG and, importantly, surveillance of incidence of cases and outcome of treatment.

  7.  There was very little surveillance of treatment of TB so it was difficult to ascertain how effectively TB was controlled in the UK.


  8.  The PHLS played a role in developing and evaluating safety of new vaccines. At present it was involved with a vaccine for pneumococcal infection.

  9.  The PHLS reference and specialist laboratories also developed, evaluated and improved diagnostic tests.


  10.  Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre had recently established a collaborative surveillance project with NHS Direct, a telephone helpline providing health information and advice to the public. Surveillance of this service may help to identify increase in illness before patients report to hospitals, both in case of deliberate release of biological or chemical agent or as a result of community outbreaks of more common infections.

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