Durham MP Roberta Blackman-Woods calls for Ebola screening at Newcastle Airport

Ebola victims could be treated at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary - but MPs are angry at lack of screening at Newcastle Airport

Owen Humphrey's/PA Wire A plane leaving Newcastle Airport
A plane leaving Newcastle Airport

A North MP has called for Ebola screening at Newcastle Airport.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was criticised after he revealed travellers coming in to the UK from affected countries are to be screened for the disease - but only if they arrive at Heathrow or Gatwick Airports or via the Channel Tunnel.

Durham MP Roberta Blackman-Woods told the Commons she was surprised when she travelled into Newcastle Airport via Brussels from west Africa - and was not screened or even asked whether she had come into contact with the disease.

The Ebola virus has killed 4,000 people during the current epidemic in west African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, making it the largest outbreak since the virus was discovered nearly 40 years ago. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 8,000 people have been infected.

Mr Hunt told the House of Commons that experts predicted there could be “a handful” of Ebola cases in the UK over the next three months.

Patients will be treated at the Royal Free Hospital in north London, but this is only set to have four beds available, he said.

He told MPs: “The plan is essentially to start with the Royal Free, which has the capacity to go from two beds at the moment up to four, then we have six beds available in Newcastle and Liverpool and then following that we have two beds available in Sheffield and then following that we could further expand capacity at the Royal Free.”

Questioned by Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central, Mr Hunt confirmed that Royal Victoria Infirmary could be used.

City of Durham Labour Roberta Blackman Woods called for screening to be extended to every airport.

She revealed: “I’m one of a group of Parliamentarians who returned from a visit to West Africa on Friday and we were rather surprised to neither be asked any questions about where we had travelled or offered any screening at either the UK border or the EU border, and I came back to the UK from Brussels to Newcastle.

“So can the Secretary of State reassure us that all regional airports will offer screening and advice to people who might have been affected?”

Jarrow’s Labour MP Stephen Hepburn asked: “What about Newcastle? Newcastle run numerous planes every day for the airports that act as hubs for these West African countries and obviously there is passage that way.”

Mr Hunt said the measures put in place were based on scientific advice and would change if needed.

He said: “We are looking at what screening procedures need to happen at regional airports”.

The screening already planned was expected to reach 89 per cent of travellers coming in to the UK from the affected region, he said.

Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Hospital took part in an exercise over the weekend in which a suspected victim of Ebola - actually an actor - was treated for the disease after collapsing in Gateshead’s Metrocentre.

The “victim” was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he was put into an isolation unit before being transferred 300 miles to the Royal Free Hospital in London.

Mr Hunt told the Commons: “This Government’s first priority is the safety of the British people. Playing our part in halting the rise of the disease in west Africa is the single most important way of preventing Ebola affecting people in the UK.”

Experts believed there “could be a handful of cases over the next three months”, he said.

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