Britons concerned they may have the deadly coronavirus have been urged to use the NHS 111 online service as the first port of call. However, the advice isn’t quite up to date with the site still not advising people returning from Italy to self-isolate despite the country having the biggest outbreak in Europe.
A number of issues with the service were highlighted yesterday, prompting fears that hundreds of cases may have gone undetected.
The NHS 111 online symptom checker service has not been advising people returning from Italy to self-isolate.
The issue has been acknowledged by Downing Street who have vowed that the information is being “urgently updated.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “They are aware of the problem and that information is being urgently updated.
“Obviously we have been setting out very clearly in public what the travel advice is in relation to Italy, both travelling to the country and returning from Italy.
“I’m aware of the issue and it is being urgently resolved.”
Moreover, people with symptoms are only being told to call 111 if they have travelled abroad.
On the website, users are asked whether they have come into contact with someone who has travelled to countries with the outbreak.
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The next question is about whether you have been in contact with a confirmed case.
If the user answers no to both, but yes to experiencing a fever, cough or shortness of breath those answering yes are then told they don’t need to call NHS 111.
The answer reads: “As you have not been to an area with a serious outbreak and have not been in contact with someone with a confirmed case, you don’t need to speak to 111.
“But you can use 111 online to check symptoms not related to coronavirus and find out what to do next.”
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This comes after news that more than one million people accessed NHS 111 support for the coronavirus.
The update to 111 online was launched on March 4 in order to help people get quick advice about coronavirus, after a surge of enquiries to the health service about the outbreak.
At its peak, the service received more than 210,000 enquiries in a single day according to digital health.
Downing Street said the authorities had the power to require people to self-isolate if they refused to follow the “sensible” advice they were being given.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The vast majority of people have been following the sensible advice which medical and scientific experts have been issuing.
“There is a power which exists – that was passed following the return of the first repatriation flight from Wuhan – which means that if it’s believed that there is a potential threat to public health a person can be required to self-isolate.”
The spokesman added that, “if the judgment was that there was a threat to public health then there are steps which can be taken”.
The issue came to light after experts took to social media to express their concerns about the online symptom checker.
Kishan Rajdev, a doctor in Birmingham, tweeted the chief medical officer to say that “rigid” NHS 111 criteria were likely meaning thousands of cases were going unreported.
He said: “While the epidemiologists are doing a great job of contact tracing, we as HCPs [healthcare workers] need a way to refer patients for coronavirus testing as the rigid NHS 111 criteria are likely missing thousands of cases. How will you empower HCPs and crowd-source contact tracing?”
Sam Freedman, a former senior policy adviser at the Department for Education, tweeted: “Unfortunately I have a cough and a fever. Turns out I can’t get a test because I haven’t been to any affected countries or come into contact with a known case.”
The website is yet to be updated.
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