Hospitals have been told to create “priority assessment pods” for people with suspected coronavirus to keep them away from other patients, a letter shows.
The letter, from Professor Keith Willett, NHS strategic incident director for coronavirus, said plans were needed to avoid a “surge in emergency departments due to coronavirus”.
Patients who think they have symptoms will be directed to a pod away from A&E, from where they can call specialist NHS 111 teams on a dedicated phone.
An assessment will be made by NHS 111 and A&E staff told of the patient’s location if further testing is deemed necessary.
The idea is to keep people isolated and away from other patients until an assessment is made.
The letter, revealed by The Independent, says the pods will then need to be decontaminated each time they are used.
It warns that emergency departments must prepare for a bigger influx of patients.
The letter, seen by the PA news agency, also instructs all chief executives and medical directors to have the pods up and running no later than Friday February 7.
An NHS spokesperson said: “Anyone returning from Hubei province in the last 14 days should stay indoors, avoid contact with other people and call NHS 111 whether or not they are showing symptoms.
“Anyone with a cough, fever, or shortness of breath who attends hospital and has recently returned from China, will be advised to follow signs to NHS 111 pods and call for advice, so they stay isolated from other patients and avoid causing unnecessary pressure in A&E.”