Doctors may get new legal powers in war against Sars
By Anthony Browne

SWEEPING new powers to control the spread of Sars that allow doctors to
detain sufferers against their will may be introduced by the Government.

As 26 more people died of the disease on the weekend, bringing the worldwide
total to 319, Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, said that the
Government may declare Sars a “notifiable” disease. The move would give
doctors the power to quarantine suspected sufferers and destroy clothing
that they think may be infected. Sir Liam said: “In due course, in the
longterm it might be helpful to make it notifiable.” However, he said that
with only six cases so far in the UK, none of them fatal, vigilance was
still the best policy.

Dr Liam Fox, the Shadow Health Secretary, accused the Government of
dithering: “If making the disease notifiable would protect the British
public, why isn’t it being done immediately?” The Department of Health
justified the “wait-and-see” policy by saying: “In the longer term, it might
be made notifiable, but we don’t want bureaucracy getting in the way of
urgent reporting.”

In Ireland, Dr Darina O’Flanagan, the head of the National Disease
Surveillance Centre, has defended a plan by doctors to escalate industrial
action to establish a structured service to deal with diseases such as Sars.
Doctors have been accused by the Government of being irresponsible for
calling for action during the outbreak, but Dr Flaganan said continuing to
operate the existing system was “unsafe”.