Hospitals will carry out video consultations during coronavirus outbreak

In an effort to reduce the risk of spreading the Covid-19 strain of coronavirus, hospitals are being asked to carry out more video-based consultations. NHS England hopes the move will reduce the number of people in hospitals and lower the potential for transmission.

This news comes the day after the Government launched a major public health campaign to combat the outbreak, with officials believing that up to a fifth of the workforce may be off sick during the peak of the epidemic in the UK.

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The number of people diagnosed with coronavirus in the UK continues to rise, bringing the total to 85, at the time of publication.

Hospitals to 'step up' their planning

NHS England has ordered hospitals to review their intensive care bed numbers and how they could be increased to cope with a surge in cases.

Hospitals have been told to draw up plans to segregate wards, such as A&E departments, in the event of a "significant escalation" in cases.

Keith Willett, head of NHS coronavirus planning, told hospitals to "step up" their planning. He said "all acute units" will be needed to treat coronavirus patients as the outbreak grows.

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“Consider implementing alternative models such as remote consultations for those patients who can be supported at home," hospitals have been told.

As part of worst case scenario planning, the NHS may be forced to cancel thousands of routine operations as coronavirus spreads. A major outbreak is expected to hit the UK within the next two months.

All adults and children in intensive care with any kind of respiratory infection must also now be tested for the virus. Hospitals must “assume that they will need to look after Covid-19 cases in due course” and to prepare wards to treat them.

Notifiable disease

Meanwhile, the government is also set to formally declare coronavirus a "notifiable disease" in England.

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The Department for Health and Social Care told the BBC that the move would mitigate the impact on business by helping companies seek compensation through insurance policies - some of which require such a declaration.

The Scottish government declared it notifiable last month.

Government's action plan

The government's "action plan", announced on Tuesday (3 March), already set out proposals to bring back retired doctors and nurses and to free up beds by cancelling non-urgent operations. The new advice for hospitals coincides with the launch of an expanded information campaign promoting frequent hand washing, for at least 20 seconds each time.

Government adverts across print, radio, online and billboards will urge people to wash their hands when they arrive at home or work, after they blow their nose, cough or sneeze, and before eating or handling food.

There are four stages to the government's response - containing the virus' spread, delaying it, mitigating its impact once it becomes established, and a research programme to improve diagnostics and treatment.