Manston’s health concerns raised with Home Office weeks before outbreak | Manston Asylum Center
The Home Office has been warned of the need to improve infection control measures at Manston, its site for people arriving in small boats, weeks before the UK’s worst diphtheria outbreak in decades , learned the Guardian.
Thanet District Council’s freedom of information revelations, obtained by the Guardian, have revealed a catalog of concerns about failures of public health measures at the center near Ramsgate, where initial checks are carried out on applicants for ‘asylum.
The site had up to 4,000 people detained towards the end of last year, despite being designed to hold 1,000, with a maximum capacity of 1,600.
An email from public health officials in Thanet to Home Office officials after an outbreak of 20 cases of gastroenteritis in early September 2022, which resulted in the hospitalization of two children, said: ‘There is has so many new pathogens emerging at the moment that it seems logical that the site be prepared and have the right things in place if something happens again that is potentially more serious.
An email response to this warning from the Home Office’s Clandestine Threat Command said: ‘Content duly noted and we will endeavor to remedy.’
In late November, Home Office sources confirmed there were 50 cases of diphtheria linked to Manston. Hussein Haseeb Ahmed, 31, from Iraq, was among those who contracted diphtheria. He died in hospital on November 19.
Usually there are only a handful of diphtheria cases each year in the UK, due to high levels of vaccination.
Home Office sources said they believed those infected had the disease before reaching the UK. However, in a freedom of information disclosure obtained by the Guardian from the UK Health Security Agency last month, officials said that while the majority of cases were thought to have been contracted abroad, it was possible that a small number had been transmitted “within the UK”.
The FoI disclosures detail growing concerns about health conditions at the site between September and November last year. A director of public health said he was “shocked” by the conditions there.
Handwashing was advised as a key infection control measure, but there was a shortage of sinks and access to running water and some toilets had no handwashing facilities.
Some toilets were clogged and overflowing with excrement.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty became involved in the crisis and ordered UKHSA officials to produce a rapid infectious disease risk assessment at the site.
Confusion surrounding the release of people from Manston who may have had infectious conditions.
A Nov. 7 email said: “There is a lack of clarity about the release of people with infectious diseases into the community and how this is handled.” He added that without a clear protocol, the situation could become “unmanageable”.
On more than one occasion people have been released from Manston and left on the streets.
A Nov. 4 email noted that asylum seekers are a vulnerable population and that “the long journeys these individuals have made and the overcrowded and closed conditions at the Manston site, including limited shared bathroom facilities, provide a highly conducive environment for the rapid spread and epidemic of various infectious diseases”.
A risk assessment rated the risk of gastrointestinal disease, measles, diphtheria, scabies and other skin diseases as “very high”.
Emma Ginn, director of the charity Medical Justice, which works to improve the health of people in immigration detention, said: ‘Given concerns from public health officials about overcrowding, toilets overflowing with feces and inadequate handwashing facilities, it is extremely alarming the Home Office has continued to detain thousands more asylum seekers in such conditions.
“The diphtheria outbreak that followed could hardly have been a surprise. The Home Office received explicit public health advice on the risks, but continued to detain very vulnerable people in apparently unlawful conditions.
Andy Baxter, Deputy General Secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, said: ‘In October 2022, the POA was consistent in its message regarding the health risks in Manston, both for residents and our hard-working members. It is very worrying that when the POA publicized diphtheria and scabies on the spot, the UKHSA and Home Office tried to downplay our concerns.
“The POA raised concerns that people with undiagnosed diphtheria were being displaced in communities; it now appears that our concerns were well founded.
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘We continue to work closely with the UKHSA to carry out our public health duty. Significant improvements have been made to the Manston facilities over the past few months and the site remains well equipped for future arrivals. The UKHSA’s own risk assessment found that the expansion of health services has improved our ability to identify, diagnose and manage infectious diseases.
“The Home Office provides 24/7 health facilities in Manston as well as robust contingency plans to deal with health issues such as communicable diseases.”