The NHS has been instructed by Sajid Javid to use private hospitals for cancer patients to prevent the surge in omicron cases delaying treatment, The Telegraph can disclose.
The Health Secretary told the NHS at the weekend that it needed to “urgently secure” private hospital staff, beds and equipment to boost capacity as increasing numbers of trusts declare “critical incidents” owing to staff shortages and rising numbers of Covid patients.
The private hospitals will be paid by the NHS to take patients for treatment including for some forms of cancer surgery and other care not normally delivered under existing arrangements with the private sector.
Private hospitals will also be placed on standby in case any NHS trusts are overwhelmed by Covid patients and are unable to provide them with the urgent care they need.
Government sources said the move was designed to ensure the health service was not overwhelmed and therefore avoid further Covid restrictions similar to the curbs on socialising at pubs, clubs and sports venues introduced by Scotland and Wales.
“We are going to do everything we can to avoid more restrictions,” a Whitehall source told The Telegraph.
“Our lines of defence through vaccines, testing and antivirals are crucial and holding up but we are also boosting NHS capacity as much as we can.
“Sajid wants the NHS to make use of the independent sector if needed. The aim is to ensure as much capacity as possible is available to help the NHS get through the Omicron wave.”
So far, 25 NHS trusts have declared critical incidents, with bosses saying services are in danger of being overwhelmed by new patients.
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, warned that the quality of care was “under real pressure” in hospitals and that the risks to patient safety were getting worse in the hardest-hit areas, largely outside London.