Callers to the NHS 111 non-emergency service will be assessed to identify if they are possible cases of Ebola, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced.
Callers to the 111 phone line who report Ebola-like symptoms such as vomiting or respiratory problems will be asked about their recent travel or whether they have been in contact with someone who has visited West Africa in the past few weeks. Suspected cases will then be reported to the emergency services, in order for them to prepare protective equipment.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Hunt said that it was 'more likely than not' that someone infected with the Ebola virus could arrive in the UK, and that it was vital for the NHS to be prepared. However, he added that the risk of an Ebola outbreak 'remains low' in the UK and went on to say: 'We have to prepare for the situation getting worse. In West Africa now, the incidence of Ebola is doubling every three to four weeks.'
PHE also conducted an exercise on 11 October to assess the readiness of the NHS to deal with a possible outbreak in the UK. It involved actors simulating Ebola symptoms in both primary and secondary care settings. The results of this will be used to ensure that the NHS is well prepared for any cases.
England's chief medical officer Professor Sally Davies said: 'This vitally important exercise gave a very realistic test of how prepared the system is to deal with a case of Ebola. Today has included a variety of scenarios involving personnel from hospitals, ambulance services and local authorities around the country.'
The new measures follow last week's announcement from PHE that travellers from West Africa will be screened at Heathrow and Gatwick for Ebola.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has continued to increase in severity. According to WHO figures released on 10 October, 4024 deaths have been attributed to the disease, out of 8376 confirmed and suspected cases.
The outbreak has begun to spread globally. The first transmission in the USA was confirmed when a nurse in Texas who had treated a man diagnosed with Ebola tested positive for the virus. The first transmission outside of West Africa was reported on 6 October in Spain.
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