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Government response to the Foot and Mouth Disease 2007 Review

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ANNEX: Response to individual recommendations

Maintain vigilance

R1 We recommend that Defra work with the new UK Border Agency to ensure that vigilance is maintained, and where possible, strengthened.

Accept. Defra will continue to work with the UKBA just as it has done with HMRC since 2003. Discussions on the exact scope of roles and responsibilities are still ongoing between HMRC and UKBA but the current level of resources allocated to Products Of Animal Origin (POAO) enforcement activities will be maintained. Defra will undertake further work on risk with HMRC/UKBA to ensure that their enforcement efforts are targeted to where there is the greatest risk. Defra/HMRC and the UKBA will maintain ongoing public awareness campaigns in the UK and abroad as part of a joint publicity strategy. Defra will continue to work with Animal Health/Local Authorities and HMRC/the new UKBA to ensure compliance with EU and GB rules for the commercial importation of live animals and POAO from outside the EU, through Border Inspection Posts. Defra will continue to work at EU and international level to influence other EU member states and third countries and minimise the risk of introducing disease into the UK.

R2 We recommend that Defra consider the case for a standing zone around Pirbright with higher levels of surveillance and greater awareness-raising of the potential risks.

Accept. Defra has fully considered the case for a standing zone. The level of surveillance implied by the Anderson Review would impose a highly significant impact on all concerned, including businesses in the zone as well as for Animal Health Agency resources and costs to the exchequer. Defra questions the benefits of this given the measures put in place to improve risk management at the site. They include a new operational agreement between the Institute of Animal Health and Merial on roles and responsibilities and the transfer of responsibility for inspection and enforcement of standards to the Health and Safety Executive. Defra agrees that it is important to maintain high levels of awareness. However this is not just an issue for livestock keepers in the vicinity of Pirbright. It is a key point for all livestock keepers given the range of exotic diseases and the unquantifiable potential for incursion of diseases and the subsequent infection of livestock. The Government therefore intends to continue to work with the veterinary profession and industry leaders to ensure that all livestock keepers understand their obligations relating to regular inspection of livestock, being aware of the commonly expected clinical signs of the relevant notifiable diseases, and also of the need to report suspicion of disease as quickly as possible and knowing how to do so.

Be prepared

R3 We recommend that Defra place greater emphasis on testing the full emergency response chain, involving critical contractors and operational partners.

Accept. Animal Health will ensure that all elements of the emergency response chain are tested as part of their established exercise programme. The 2008/9 programme focuses on critical control points and includes key contingency contracts and operational partners. Key operational partners, such as local authorities, are already routinely involved in the existing local exercise programme. We will have rehearsed two key contingency contracts by end of January 2009 with further exercises planned to test the establishment of Forward Operations Bases, the transport of equipment, and the deployment of labour and cleansing and disinfection equipment planned for later in 2009. There will be a national exercise across Government Departments in 2010.

R4 We recommend that there be a fundamental overhaul of the arrangements for selecting, training, deploying and rewarding the Regional Operations Directors (RODs) and Divisional Operations Managers (DOMs).

Accept. Animal Health is undertaking a critical review of the Government's outbreak response model in liaison with Defra and the Devolved Administrations. This includes a reassessment of job roles in both the National and Local Disease Control Centres of which Regional Operations Directors (RODs) and Divisional Operations Managers (DOMs) are key. The revised job roles along with the new role of Regional Policy Adviser have been included in the latest version of the Defra Contingency Plan which was laid before Parliament in December 2008. These changes will significantly increase the pool from which these key appointments can be made. Changes have also been made to the remuneration arrangements to make the ROD role more attractive.

R5 We recommend that Animal Health review the skills, experience and general level of preparedness of their staff in key skills such as data handling.

Accept. Animal Health continually reviews the Government's outbreak response model in liaison with Defra and the Devolved Administrations. Recently attention has focused on an assessment of the key skills and competencies required in Disease Control Centres. Animal Health is introducing a skills register to assist with the deployment of appropriately trained staff in an outbreak.

R6 We recommend that Defra review the scalability of its existing contingency plans and emergency staffing models.

Accept. Animal Health continually reviews the Government's outbreak response model in liaison with Defra and the Devolved Administrations. Recently this has included exploring potential external resource pools and partnerships. Some recommendations of the review – such as the use of Forward Operations Bases (FOBs) – have been included in the latest version of the Contingency Plan laid before Parliament in December 2008.

R7 We recommend that Defra, drawing on the experience in 2007, should do more to prepare generic licences for use in a future disease outbreak, ensuring that all documents are in plain English.

Accept. Defra has a library of draft licences ready for a further outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease and for outbreaks of some other notifiable diseases. A number of draft FMD licences were available in 2007. To help us improve the draft licences, we are working with others with practical farming and enforcement experience in helping us improve them. Every effort is made to see that they are clearly written and easily understood. We are also looking at how we might clarify the expected trigger points for relaxing movement controls and at publishing this clarification in order that those impacted by the restrictions can better plan for them. This work is linked to a wider review of issues around timing of removal of restrictions in exotic disease outbreaks, e.g. to facilitate export trade as early as possible.

R8 We recommend that Defra continues to develop and test its policies and arrangements for emergency vaccination, as a central element of its control strategy, ensuring that the full implications of vaccination are thought through and widely understood.

Accept. Defra and Animal Health work closely together to test all elements of the response policy and operational readiness. Animal Health is currently re-tendering the contract to deliver FMD vaccination and aims to put in place a flexible contract which will improve capability to vaccinate against other exotic diseases where that would be an appropriate response. Defra and Animal Health will continue to keep under review the science behind vaccination as a disease control strategy and vaccine technical developments; not just for FMD but also for other exotic animal diseases. This includes continuing engagement with consumer organisations, those involved in the food production chain and others about the circulation of products derived from vaccinated animals. Work will include an examination of the Cost Benefit Analyses of different vaccination strategies.

R9 We recommend that Defra look to increase the level of decision making it is possible to delegate to those on the ground, at the LDCC, during an outbreak.

Accept. This requires planning against a range of scenarios and working through the issues around the international obligations of the UK and the CVO specifically. Representatives of local partners will be involved in the planning. Unlike some other emergency areas, exotic animal diseases will always have an impact on international trade and decisions to be applied locally need to be cognisant of the national and international consequences. The work to build the library of movement licences and agreement on trigger points for their use should enable more local decisions to be taken.

React with speed and certainty

R10 We recommend that the arrangements for responding to notifiable disease reports be rehearsed regularly.

Accept. Animal Health routinely responds to reports of notifiable disease and has an established programme of exercises in each of its Divisional Offices. Further work has been undertaken to audit the disease reporting process to build a continuous improvement and quality assurance mechanism. This includes looking at the arrangements for notifying and mounting the response delivered by other local operational partners.

Explain policies, plans and practices

R11 We recommend that Defra continue to develop a ‘menu of communication opportunities' for use in any crisis.

Accept. Opportunities cover what needs to be communicated, when, how and to whom. Defra continues to improve its understanding of how best to communicate with farmers, based on research into channels they want Defra to use during an animal disease outbreak. Since 2001, Animal Health has introduced several new channels which increase the menu of communication opportunities available. Animal Health has also introduced a free subscription service for Disease Alerts, which is used to notify subscribers of latest disease outbreak news via email, fax, voicemail or SMS. This is in addition to the Poultry Register, which also has an SMS capability and will be used in the event of a poultry disease.

FMD 2007 saw a step change improvement in the Defra website from 2001, and plans are in place for further improvements to the website navigation. This will be achieved through a considerable amount of user research and evaluation of current trends of usage, and is expected to deliver changes to the site structure and navigation in 2009. There are now Defra-managed "channels" on the Directgov (www.direct.gov.uk) and Business Link (www.businesslink.gov.uk) websites and we make use of these resources to communicate key information to the general public and business as appropriate in the event of an emergency.

R12 We recommend that engagement with the local media be improved.

Accept. A gap identified in Defra's communication contingency planning led to the introduction of a daily regional teleconference call, which increased to twice a day during the height of the outbreak. Defra have now included in its contingency planning:

  • a dedicated role within the Press Office to liaise directly with COI News and PR (formerly GNN) and local media
  • regular press briefings for local journalists held at the Local Disease Control Centre during an outbreak with the Regional Operations Director and Divisional Veterinary Manager, sometimes supported by the NFU
  • close liaison with local authorities' and police press offices
  • plans for visits by regional ministers and the Chief Veterinary Officer to include briefing local media.
    The Defra Communications Directorate has participated in exercises with COI News and PR and Animal Health throughout 2008 and will continue to do so in 2009, and resources permitting, will during 2009, run additional training sessions for COI News and PR staff on improving engagement between them, Defra, and Animal Health during a disease outbreak.