The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh has welcomed the new expert group on preparing for the threat of future pandemics in Scotland.

The College believes that in the event of a future pandemic, strong forward planning on protecting people in care homes is required, as well as a move away from an historic overreliance on pandemic flu modelling.

In June 2020, the College launched a 5 point plan, to inform government preparation for future pandemics:

Personal protective equipment (PPE): the whole world is looking for the same PPE items during a pandemic. This has been proven by the response to the coronavirus pandemic.  The College recommends putting “sleeping” contracts in place for items which would be required to respond to a pandemic, including PPE, pharmaceuticals and resources such as laboratory space and staff.

Treatment and testing: there should be a clear strategy for outbreak response which is multidisciplinary and includes public health communicable disease control experts. There needs to be pre-existing capacity to move to rapid treatment and vaccine trials, and to scale up key resources quickly for activities such as testing of key workers and members of the public.

Shielding: action should be taken early on to protect or “shield” vulnerable groups, such as those in care homes, those with weakened immune systems, and those in deprived populations where the average life expectancy is shorter than in the least deprived areas. This should include early interventions and accurate information for targeted, shielded groups.

Key workers: the protection of healthcare staff (and others on the frontline) must be a key consideration and scenarios must be planned in advance to “map out” how staff can work safely, including PPE, social distancing rules and testing.

Learning from other countries: It is vital that Scotland and the UK learns from other countries and their response – whether good or bad. There needs to be rapid work on understanding and learning the immediate lessons from the experiences of other healthcare systems. Moving forward, disease surveillance will be important: “horizon scanning for next big outbreak”. This can be done by population symptom tracking using surveillance tools such as the ZOE app, and through NHS and university research partnerships.

In June 2020, Dr Susan Pound, vice-president for Scotland and Northern Ireland said:

While we acknowledge that planning was done from government level down, we think that it would have been helpful to have focused more on wider public health and the health and social care system as a whole, rather than concentrating so heavily on secondary care and the NHS.

The heavy focus on secondary care and the NHS was a factor in the response to protecting care home residents and staff.

We are concerned that the MERS and SARS outbreaks were seen in the UK as being largely confined to countries in Asia, resulting in a view that an epidemic originating in Asia would be highly unlikely to ever cause an outbreak in the UK. 

This affected the UK’s level of preparedness.