The NHS has started testing suspected coronavirus patients in their own homes.
NHS staff, including nurses and paramedics, have been issued with home testing kits to stop people travelling with the infection to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Professor Keith Willett, NHS strategic incident director for coronavirus, said: “We have started to pilot home testing for coronavirus in London, which will be carried out by NHS staff, like nurses or paramedics, allowing people to stay home rather than having to travel, which is safer for you and your family and limits the spread of infection.
“Anyone who is concerned they have signs and symptoms, should continue to use NHS 111 as their first point of contact – they will tell you what you exactly what you need to do and where necessary, the right place to be tested.”
Professor Willett stressed the best way to contain the virus was for the public to follow basic hygiene rules.
“People should also play their part by following public health advice – wash your hands, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when you cough or sneeze, and put used tissues in the bin immediately,” he said.
There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK for over a week and the British government’s strategy is so far proving effective. But London as a major international transport hub is vulnerable to an outbreak. This is where the home testing kits will be trialled before being used outside the capital.
The initiative has been welcomed by paramedics and nurses.
Richard Webber from the College of Paramedics told Sky News: “Paramedics are already being sent out to suspected coronavirus cases. But every time an ambulance is used it has to be deep cleaned – that means it is temporarily out of operation. It makes sense to see people in their own homes rather than risk a further spread of the infection.”
But nursing unions warned their members were already overstretched.
Dr Crystal Oldman from the Queens Nursing Institute told Sky News: “Clearly we are working in unprecedented circumstances to contain the spread of the virus and to treat those who have the disease as speedily as possible.
“It makes sense for people to be tested in their own homes rather than taking ambulances out of use while being deep cleaned.
“However, we need to assess who is the right clinician to undertake the screening test and where any additional capacity can be created to allow the time to undertake the home visits.
“Consideration should be given to employing nurses to specifically undertake this work, as the district nursing service is under tremendous pressure to deliver urgent care for their patients every day.
“General practice nurses similarly will have full clinics from which they cannot be released without an impact on the people they are caring for.”
Meanwhile in Scotland the new coronavirus has been made a “notifiable disease”, meaning medics must alert health boards if they suspect a patient is infected.
Public health regulations were amended to place COVID-19 on the list of notifiable diseases north of the border. The list also includes cholera, rabies, measles and tuberculosis.
Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood has written to NHS boards, medical practitioners and directors of diagnostic laboratories to make them aware of the changes.
The virus became a notifiable disease in Ireland on Thursday.
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