Mater to get bio-terrorism unit


Hospital report: The planned new national bio-terrorism unit is to be established at the Mater Hospital in Dublin.

The board of the hospital has been informed by management in recent weeks that verbal acknowledgement has been received from the HSE and Department of Health that the unit will be developed at the Mater.

The establishment of the new unit will involve an investment of around €4 million, according to an internal hospital report prepared for the board.

A spokesman for the Mater said the development would involve the provision of enhanced isolation and other facilities at the hospital.

It is understood that the new unit would not only deal with casualties arising from any terrorist attack involving chemical or biological agents but would also deal with any serious outbreak of infectious diseases.

The establishment of the new unit comes on foot of a recommendation from an expert group which was established by the Government in the wake of the September 11th attacks in the United States to develop a contingency plan to be implemented in the event of a chemical or biological attack here.

However, the former Minister for Health, Micheál Martin, told the Dáil in 2003 that the expert group believed the most likely threat to Ireland would come from dealing with the secondary consequences of an attack on another country.

The expert group proposed that the national bio-terrorism unit be established in an acute hospital in Dublin.

A number of Dublin hospitals with expertise in dealing with infectious disease cases were subsequently asked by the Department of Health to submit proposals to establish such a facility.

Based on other recommendations of the expert group the Department of Health also agreed some time ago to purchase 2.4 million doses of oral and 16,000 doses of intravenous antibiotics as well as 600,000 doses of vaccines for use in the event of confirmed cases of anthrax or smallpox.

The smallpox vaccine can be diluted by a factor of five or six.

The National Virus Reference Laboratory has also developed a high-level containment facility to allow for the secure storage of a range of infectious agents including smallpox.

Government policy on smallpox opposes the mass vaccination of the population, which is in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation.

The designation of the Mater as the site of the new national bio-terrorism unit is the second boost for the hospital in recent weeks.

Last week, the Cabinet endorsed a recommendation from an inter-departmental group that the planned new national children's hospital be established on a site on the campus of the Mater Hospital.