Doctors say future uncertain for poisoned Skripals

LONDON — Doctors who treated poisoned ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia say they expected the pair to die, and still don't know what their long-term prognosis is.

The Skripals were found unconscious in the English city of Salisbury on March 4 after being exposed to a nerve agent known as Novichok. They spent weeks comatose in critical condition but have now been discharged.

Britain says Russia was behind the poisoning with the military-grade nerve agent. Moscow strongly denies the allegation. The incident has sparked a Cold War-style diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West, including the expulsion of hundreds of diplomats from both sides.

Britain called Tuesday for a special conference of the global chemical weapons watchdog "in response to shocking recent chemical attacks" including those in Salisbury, and in the Syrian civil war and by the Islamic State group in Iraq.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the U.K. and 10 other countries, including the U.S., were calling for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to meet next month "to take action to reaffirm and defend the ban on chemical weapons."

Britain said it was confident of getting the backing of 64 of the 192 OPCW member states, the number needed to trigger a conference.

Sergei Skripal, 66, is a former Russian intelligence officer who was convicted of spying for Britain before coming to the U.K. as part of a 2010 prisoner swap. He had been living quietly in Salisbury, a cathedral city 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of London, when he was struck down along with his 33-year-old daughter.

Medical staff at Salisbury District Hospital spoke to the BBC about their response when the Skripals were brought in, initially thought to be suffering from an opioid overdose.

Dr. Stephen Jukes, an intensive care consultant at the hospital, told the BBC that "when we first were aware this was a nerve agent we were expecting them not to survive.

"We would try all our therapies, we would ensure the best clinical care. But all the evidence was there that they would not survive," he said in an interview broadcast Tuesday.

Hospital medical director Christine Blanshard said "we don't know" what the long-term effects of the poisoning will be.

Blanshard said that "we have a total world experience of treating three patients for the effects of Novichok poisoning" — the Skripals and a police officer who came to their assistance. He was treated in hospital and released.

"I think it's safe to say that we're still learning," Blanshard said.

Yulia Skripal — who arrived in England to visit her father a day before the poisoning — said last week that her recovery had been "slow and extremely painful" and that she hoped to return to Russia one day.

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