The Department of Health, in conjunction with the Home Office and other government departments, was this week due to release detailed information on how to deal with a biological attack.
As anthrax scares spread worldwide, the departments coordinated new and fuller advice on managing deliberate release of dangerous biological or chemical agents, not just anthrax.
The information is being disseminated throughout the NHS and it is understood that plans are also being drawn up to ensure that accident and emergency departments are equipped with chemical protection suits to deal with infected patients. But the DoH continued to stress that there was 'no direct threat', and test results from three people who may be infected with anthrax after spending time in an affected building in Florida were still not available.
Most ambulance trusts and large hospital trusts in metropolitan areas were unwilling to reveal any specific preparations being made, but all were awaiting the government's forthcoming advice.
Since the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September, trusts have been told to review major incident plans, and Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital trust, opposite Parliament, said that 'in the light of recent international events' equipment has also been reviewed.
'We have purchased eight new protective suits. . . staff have been trained to use these and we will continue to keep their training up-to-date, ' a spokesperson said.
Dr Mike Barker, consultant in communicable disease control at Southampton and South West Hampshire health authority, said:
'There is a need for ambulance staff and A&E workers to have protective clothing, and I understand that it is being dealt with as part of the emergency planning going on. It is essential to have an integrated, multi-agency approach, and we will no doubt be holding meetings with local authorities, primary care trusts and trusts to discuss the DoH guidelines.'
A spokesperson for Central Manchester PCT said: 'We are due to be meeting Manchester city council to discuss contingency plans to deal with any outbreak, but it will be more about aspects of the council's emergency plan.'
The DoH has written to all GPs with the latest advice on diagnosing anthrax, and the Public Health Laboratory Service this week issued new guidance on diagnosis and treatment. It includes additional PHLS advice on how healthcare providers should deal with questions about anthrax, such as how to deal with patients who have received packages from the US or patients asking for vaccines.
Chief medical officer Professor Liam Donaldson said the government needed 'to be cautious about the information that goes into the public domain' so as not to help terrorists, but he insisted that the DoH was prepared.
'We have put in place plans to secure supplies and stores of the appropriate antibiotics, ' he added.