Calls to the NHS’s non-emergency 111 phoneline are to be screened for possible ebola sufferers, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced.
Call handlers on the service are to question anyone ringing up with possible symptoms of the disease about their recent travel history, to see if they have been to west Africa, where the death toll has passed 4,000 people, Mr Hunt said.
“All call handlers on the NHS 111 service are asking anyone reporting potential symptoms of ebola”
The announcement comes as the United States announced its second case of the disease, in a Texas hospital worker who was in contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, who died from the virus last week.
Mr Hunt said that the UK had “robust and well-tested systems for dealing with any imported case of ebola” but added: “However, we keep the need for further measures under review and will never be complacent - and so I asked for additional steps to be taken by NHS 111.
“Now all call handlers on the NHS 111 service are asking anyone reporting potential symptoms of ebola, such as respiratory problems, high temperatures, or diarrhoea and vomiting, about their recent travel history, so appropriate help can be given to people who might be at higher risk of having come into contact with the virus.
“If the person with symptoms has recently been to west Africa and is at high risk of having been in contact with ebola, 111 will immediately refer them to local emergency services for assessment by ambulance personnel with appropriate protective equipment.
“The NHS and Public Health England are well prepared for ebola, and I am determined to make sure that we continue to do everything we can to protect the public, based on the best medical advice.”
Mr Hunt’s move came after the UK’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, said the country should expect a “handful” of ebola cases in the coming months and a major exercise to test the country’s readiness for such cases proved plans were “robust”, according to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Enhanced screening for the virus at major airports and terminals have also formed part of David Cameron’s contingency plan against ebola.
“I have little doubt that eventually there will be a case of ebola in this country”
The Prime Minister has been forced to defend the decision after questions were raised about the checks, which are to take place at Heathrow, Gatwick and Eurostar rail terminals, with a spokesman for Gatwick saying that the airport had not been given any instructions about how the screening should be carried out.
Boris Johnson said airport screening was a “far from perfect solution” and there would be a case of the disease in London.
The Mayor of London told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “It’s one of those cases where we are at risk of seeming to promise stuff that doesn’t really make any sense.
“You can’t blood test everybody coming into the country.” He added: “I have no doubt, I have little doubt that eventually there will be a case of ebola in this country and probably in this city.”
The British expert in charge of the United Nations response to ebola has said he hopes the spread of the killer virus will be “under control” in three months.
Dr David Nabarro, the UN’s special envoy on ebola, told BBC 5Live the number of cases in west African countries including Sierra Leone were increasing week-on-week.
But systems now put in place, along with international help from nations including Britain, could help turn the tide and reduce the number of cases from one week to the next.
Britain’s latest ebola aid flight delivering beds, personal protection suits, tents and ten vehicles landed in Freetown today, international development secretary Justine Greening said.
It includes equipment for a 92-bed unit being built by a UK team.
Aid delivered so far includes ambulances, water tanks, incinerators for disposing of clothing and other materials, generators and personal protection equipment.