Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence



  13 September 2002

  Sir William Stewart


  Health Protection Agency

  Hannibal House

  Elephant and Castle

  London SE1 6TE

  Dear Sir William

  I am writing to give you information about the Clinical Virology Network and how we feel we can help the HPA achieve the goals set out in the Chief Medical Officer's Report "Getting Ahead of the Curve".

  The UK Clinical Virology Network was established last year to co-ordinate the activities of the nation's clinical virology services. In summary, we have agreed to interact as a series of 20 specialist laboratories whose aim is to provide best practice to all parts of the UK by sharing laboratory protocols and epidemiological information using a dedicated website. Furthermore, we intend to use the Network to ensure that information on the current epidemiology of virus infections is provided electronically to the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre. To date, a representative committee has been appointed, a constitution agreed and a website has gone live. A working group has already begun to prioritise a wide range of activities for the benefit of the Network and the practice of clinical and public health virology. For example:

  1.  The Virology Standard Operating Procedures prepared by the PHLS are being peer-reviewed by the Network.

  2.  Network members have responded with enthusiasm to a request for CSF samples to determine whether West Nile virus has caused human disease in the UK, with over 500 such samples being offered to Colindale for testing.

  3.  Quality Assurance Panels for electromicroscopy and polymerase chain reaction will be tested by the Specialist Virology Centres to determine how well vesicular rashes caused by varicella-zoster virus can be differentiated from a possible terrorist release of smallpox virus.

  These three examples illustrate how the quality of virological diagnosis can be improved and standardised across the country, how Ministers can be provided with concrete facts to inform the public about novel emerging infectious agents and how potential terrorist threats can be prepared for and differentiated from the common, naturally occurring virus infections which could cause public/media panic if misdiagnosed clinically.

  We have kept under review the documents emanating from the Department of Health since the publication of the Chief Medical Officer's report. We remain concerned that the current proposals imply that health protection can be conducted in a subset of specialist laboratories. Instead, we prefer a model where the existing 20 Specialist Virology Centres continue to provide specialist virological diagnosis across the country, ie each centre should contain an HPA function even if it is not one of the recently designated HPA laboratories.

  We would like to meet with you to discuss how the Clinical Virology Network could help the HPA and how the HPA could help us maintain and develop our nascent network. If you can suggest some dates which are free in your diary, we will find one that is mutually convenient and provide you with additional information on the Clinical Virology Network. I look forward to hearing from you and meanwhile enclose a copy of our Strategy Document.

  Yours sincerely

Paul D Griffiths

Professor of Virology and Chief Executive Officer, UK Clinical Virology Network

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