Calls to the NHS non-emergency 111 phoneline are to be screened for possible Ebola sufferers, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.
Anyone contacting the service with possible symptoms of the disease will be asked about their recent travel history to see if they have been to west Africa.
The announcement came as Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said he had “no doubt” that the virus would come to the UK at some point.
It emerged yesterday that a Texas hospital worker, who had contact with Ebola victim Thomas Duncan, had become the second person to have the virus in the US.
In Britain, universities are preparing for the arrival of 20,000 students from Ebola-stricken West Africa as the new academic year begins amid fears that they could face a backlash.
Staff are on high alert, with plans already in place to monitor the highest-risk students for up to three weeks. Cleaners have been told to look out for symptoms such as signs of blood or vomit in students' rooms, as well as being warned of the infection risks of contact with bodily fluids.
Universities also cautioned against any discrimination, pointing out that the risks are minimal. Of the 20,000 West African students, around 17,000 are from Nigeria, where the outbreak is said to be contained.
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 — and so I asked for additional steps to be taken by NHS 111. 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.”
Mr Johnson told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: “I have no doubt; I have little doubt that eventually there will be a case of Ebola in this country and probably in this city.”
The London Mayor also said that airport screening was a “far from perfect solution” because: “You can't blood test everybody coming into the country.”
In Texas, the medical worker was in an isolation ward in a stable condition, awaiting confirmation of her diagnosis. She showed symptoms for the first time on Friday and had received a preliminary diagnosis of Ebola early yesterday.
“We knew a second case could be a reality and we've been preparing for this possibility,” Dr David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said. “We are broadening our team in Dallas and working with extreme diligence to prevent further spread.”
Dr Thomas Frieden, the head of the Centres For Disease Control and Prevention, said they were “deeply concerned” by the new case and suggested protocols designed to prevent the spread of the infection may not have been observed. “If this individual was exposed, which they were, it is possible that other individuals were exposed,” he said. Dr Frieden said 48 other people who may also have had contact with Mr Duncan were being observed.