New guidelines on serious mistatkesWith increasing concern about the spread of Ebola, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) is reminding doctors of their duties towards patients who they suspect may have contracted the disease. 

It says that it is important that doctors remember that they have always treated patients with infectious diseases which have no known cure, such as HIV and rabies, and Ebola should not be considered differently. However, doctors should make sure they are up to speed on the latest public health advice.

Dr Carol Chu, medico-legal advisor at the MDU says: "Doctors should be aware that although they may be anxious about treating a patient who they suspect may have Ebola, the risk of contracting it in the UK is very low. The virus is transmitted via contact with bodily fluids rather than through respiration, and robust public health measures that have been put in place should keep cases isolated. It is important that doctors are aware of their obligations towards patients with infectious diseases such as Ebola and know how to react if they do come across a patient who they suspect may have been infected. Doctors are reminded of GMC guidance which states that they must not deny treatment to any patient because they believe that that their condition may put them at risk However, appropriate steps should be taken to minimise the risk prior to carrying out treatment."

Public Health England and NHS Choices have both issued guidance on managing patients with suspected Ebola which doctors should become familiar with. Doctors should also include appropriate travel advice to patients who plan to visit a country where there has already been an Ebola outbreak.

The MDU advises doctors to:

  • review the list of countries that are affected by the Ebola outbreak 
  • make yourself aware of the symptoms and signs of Ebola in case you see a patient who has recently visited one of the affected countries or has been in close contact with someone who has 
  • familiarise yourself with Public Health England’s guidance on the management of patients suspected of Ebola
  • familiarise yourself with protective equipment and how to use it safely
  • if a patient informs you that they are planning on visiting a country where there has been an Ebola outbreak, offer appropriate advice.