News : NHS Call Centre Workers to Quiz Those with Potential Ebola Symptoms
Oct 13, 2014 -- Calls to the NHS's non-emergency 111 phoneline are to be screened for possible Ebola sufferers, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced.
Call centre workers are to question anyone phoning 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.
Symptoms of the deadly virus include respiratory problems, high temperatures, or diarrhoea and vomiting.
The NHS 111 service is a free one-step number for patients with urgent, but not life-threatening symptoms.
The phone line, which has 46 different centres across the country, operates 24-hours a day, seven days a week. It receives one million calls every month.
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.'
He said: '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.'
Meanwhile, thousands of NHS workers are planning to walk out of hospitals on Monday as they strike over pay.
The industrial action will see picket lines mounted outside hospitals and ambulance stations across England for four hours from 7am.
Mr Hunt's announcement comes one day after NHS staff carried out show drills ordered by the Prime Minister to practise diagnosing and treating suspected Ebola cases.
The exercises, which took place at health centres and hospitals across the UK, came amid growing fears that the deadly virus could strike here - and spread.
Pictures of the exercises showed medics clad head-to-toe in sealed plastic bio-protection suits, medics wheeling stricken 'patients' - played by actors - into an NHS hospital.
The space-age medical outfits – similar to those used in West Africa, where 4,000 people have already died from the disease – protect them from direct contact with the patient.
Ebola, which kills up to 90 per cent of those it infects, is present in all bodily fluids – including tears, sweat and mucus – of those infected. The medics wear special respirators that enable them to breathe filtered air.
Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, said the exercises ‘gave a very realistic test of how prepared the system is to deal with a case of ebola.'
Last night she said the UK should expect ‘a handful’ of ebola cases in the coming months.
She said: ‘The big problem is in West Africa where the doubling rate is every four weeks and it really is going up and up. So it will not be surprising if we have spill- over into this country. I would expect a handful of cases over the next few months.’
The only British citizen to have been infected with Ebola was nurse Will Pooley who survived despite catching the virus while working to help victims in Sierra Leone.
Yesterday it was confirmed that a British man suspected of being the first UK citizen to die of Ebola did not have the deadly virus.
Colin Jaffray, 58, from Royston, Cambridgeshire, was struck down with a fever, vomiting and internal bleeding during a business trip to Macedonia - and died in hospital on Thursday evening.
Officials in Skopje say that although the cause of death was not known, it is thought that a drinking binge may have played a part in his death.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Tuesday, October 14, 2014