Mayor and Emma Thompson call on Londoners to get tested for TB

13 January 2016

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson MP is urging more people to get tested for TB as part of his campaign to raise awareness of the disease, which is more prevalent in London than any other capital in Western Europe. Today his TB ambassador, award-winning actress Emma Thompson and her son Tindy Agaba visited a mobile ‘Find & Treat’ screening unit which travels the capital diagnosing and treating TB and other infectious diseases. The visit came as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published updated guidance to better treat and prevent TB.

In 2014 there were 2,572 TB cases reported in London and, whilst eight out of 10 TB cases in London are in people born abroad, anyone can contract TB. The Mayor is working with bodies including Public Health England and University College London Hospitals (UCLH) to raise awareness of the disease, and encourage people to consult their GP if they have any symptoms.

Emma Thompson has a special interest in TB after her son Tindy was diagnosed and treated for the disease by UCLH doctors in 2011. Appointed the Mayor’s TB ambassador in January 2015 to help raise awareness of the disease among Londoners and challenge the stigma associated with it, Emma met service users at the Whitechapel Mission homeless day centre today as they underwent X-Rays and received vaccines against flu and pneumonia. The visit formed part of a project to develop a short film with Public Health England to raise awareness of TB amongst Londoners.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson MP, said: “It’s essential that Londoners know the symptoms of TB and where to go for help if we’re to rid the capital of this debilitating disease. Whilst TB rates in London have dropped over the last three years, it is unacceptable that our great city still has some of the highest levels in Western Europe. The Find & Treat service is making a real difference by diagnosing and treating hard-to-reach communities across the capital. Emma and Tindy are doing a great job raising awareness of this illness and I urge all Londoners to remember that anyone can become infected with TB and to get tested if they have any concerns.”

Emma Thompson, the Mayor of London’s TB Ambassador said: “Early diagnosis and treatment are vital in the fight against TB, a battle which I am deeply committed to after my son Tindy’s experience of the disease. The Find & Treat service plays an invaluable role in reaching out to all sections of our community, providing support and raising awareness of how important it is to get tested, get treated and get cured. It is already making a huge difference, screening thousands of people and helping them return to health. The scale of TB in such a developed, world-class city as London is truly alarming and I will continue to work with the Mayor to keep this disease at the top of the health agenda.”

Operating across London since 2005, the Find & Treat service works alongside a network of over 200 front line health and social care services to tackle TB in socially vulnerable groups such as the homeless, vulnerable migrants or those with drug and alcohol problems, who make up 10 per cent of London’s TB cases. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital in the fight against TB and the Find & Treat team screens almost 10,000 high-risk Londoners each year in their mobile units, immediately referring those who need further care.

The team, which includes former TB patients who work as peer advocates, specialist nurses, social and outreach workers, radiographers and technicians, supports TB services in London and beyond to manage over 300 of the most socially complex cases every year. By addressing the lifestyle factors that put people at increased risk of TB, 84 per cent of the patients found by the Find & Treat vans have successfully completed treatment and many have broken cycles of addiction and homelessness.

Dr Alistair Story, Clinical Lead for the Find & Treat service at UCLH said:  “The UCLH Find & Treat team is delighted to welcome Emma Thompson and Tindy Agaba to the frontline of TB control in London. The Mobile Health Unit regularly visits the Whitechapel Mission to provide on-the-spot TB checks and other essential care as part of our routine services for homeless people across London. TB is an infectious airborne disease that remains a very real threat to public health in London and we work hard to make sure that those most at risk can get diagnosed early and cured.”

Dr Yvonne Doyle, London regional director for Public Health England and the Mayor’s Health Adviser, said: “TB has declined in London in recent years but we still had over 2,500 cases last year and continue to have the highest proportion of cases in the country, at 40%. With the second highest rate of TB in a Western Europe capital we will ensure that TB control remains our priority so that we can achieve further decreases and reduce inequalities associated with the disease. Emma and Tindy’s involvement to help raise awareness of TB amongst Londoners is a real asset and brings home the message that anyone can be affected by TB.”

Notes to editors

  1. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance to better treating and preventing TB can be read here: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng33  
  2. Public Health England and NHS England launched a national TB Strategy in January 2015, one part of which aims to address socially vulnerable and under-served groups. The Collaborative TB Strategy for England can be read here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/403231/Collaborative_TB_Strategy_for_England_2015_2020_.pdf
  3. In January 2015 the Find & Treat service launched a new, state of the art van at Portcullis House. Tindy Agaba attended this event with Victoria Borwick, who was then Deputy Mayor of London.
  4. Today’s visit is part of a project to develop a short film to raise awareness of the disease and encourage Londoners to get tested. Commissioned by the Greater London Authority, the film will be used by Public Health England.
  5. The Whitechapel Mission has served homeless and marginalised people for 140 years and includes a day centre, skills training and career advice, activity programmes and specialist support for complex needs. It welcomes as many as 300 people every day.
  6. In 2014, 2,572 new cases of TB were diagnoses among London residents, a rate of 30 per 100,000 population. This was a 15 per cent decrease from the rate observed in 2013, and a 26 per cent decrease from 2012. Compared to the rest of the UK, however, rates remained highest in London. The 2014 annual review of TB in London can be read here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/484927/Annual_review_of_tuberculosis_in_London_2014_data.pdf 
  7. Of Western European capitals, London has the second highest rate of TB behind Lisbon (see figure 4, p.8 of the Collaborative TB Strategy for England), but London has the highest number of cases.
  8. Most TB cases in London occur amongst specific risk groups, such as people with close links to countries with a high TB burden (often settled migrants from such countries who experience reactivation of latent TB infection which they acquired many years previously, and who make up 82% of cases) and people with social risk factors such as homelessness, a history of imprisonment or problem drug or alcohol use, who make up 10% of cases.