This programme has learned that leaks are still causing problems in some biochemical suits worn by accident and emergency staff in the event of a terrorist attack. The fault, caused in the manufacturing process, was raised last year. Modifications were being made to existing suits but the Health Minister John Hutton admitted they're still some months away from solving the problem despite the heightened awareness right now.
Michael Clayton, the clinical director of casualty services in Halifax and Huddersfield explained that the leakage occurred when water used during the chemical wash down process entered the boot and surrounded the foot of the suit for some time . He's had contact with many A&E departments let down by the same problem.
President of the British association for accident and emergency medicine , & leading consultant John Heyworth said it wasn't a "great confidence booster" that instructions had been sent out about how to apply tape to deal with leaks. "It's alarming that was the sort of measure required. " John Hutton acknowledged that it was unacceptable for health authorities to tell staff to fix leaks with tape, as some have done. He said "We have made modifications to existing suits. It is not ideal, but they are safe."
St Mary's Hospital London has half new, half old suits now . A&E consultant there Nicola Batrick shows me the new variety with an extra section over the boot to let water run off . I ask what the public does if there's a chemical or biological attack ? I'd earlier been told by St Mary's that they would "shut out" panicking people fleeing the scene. She will not repeat that phrase but says the advice is for people who think they've been involved in a biochemical attack to stay on the scene to be decontaminated by the London Fire Brigade. Nicola Batrick says security would control the flow into St Mary's A&E & confirms there would be "no free access" which could contaminate and put at risk the rest of the hospital and staff.
Meanwhile the fire service says it still hasn't got all the decontamination kit it needs & was promised by the Government. London Union Secretary Mick Shergold says the long awaited exercise simulating a terrorist attack in London's been postponed not just because of the Iraq crisis but because plans were far from ready and didn't go far enough . The run through was planned to stop with crews extracting people from Bank tube station whereas he felt the important part was practising the decontamination process. He says his men have "never tested the process on major scale." Health minister John Hutton argued the plans had been cancelled because of uncertainty over whether firefighters currently embroiled in a pay dispute would be willing to take part.
There has been a lot of work undertaken by stretched emergency services across the country to ready teams for a biochemical attack ...many arguing an effort not matched by the slow reaction from government.
Minister, John Hutton, admits they are still months away from solving the problem .