Hospitals will be able to use spare capacity in the private sector under a new deal struck with the NHS, while hospitals have been told to find extra beds.
The three-month agreement will see private healthcare staff and facilities put on standby to support the NHS should hospital admissions or staff absences due to Covid threaten the provision of urgent care.
Patients that can be referred include some of those waiting for cancer surgery.
The NHS has also been asked to look at using spare capacity in gyms and education centres to create “super surge” wards on top of their usual surge capacity.
Nightingale hubs are already being created in the grounds of some hospitals as part of a move to create up to 4,000 extra beds.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “This agreement demonstrates the collaboration across our healthcare services to create an additional safeguard that ensures people can continue to get the care they need from our world-leading NHS, whenever they need it.”
Michael Gove has said the UK – and particularly England – has one of the “most open” and “one of the most liberal approaches of any country in Europe” when it comes to coronavirus.
The Levelling Up Secretary told Sky News it would be for the Prime Minister and Health Secretary to decide whether to cut the period of Covid isolation to five days from seven.
But he said: “We always keep things under review because we’re always guided by the facts, by the science, and by changing circumstances.
“So I think it’s striking to note that in the United Kingdom overall, particularly in England, we have one of the most open regimes, one of the essentially… one of the most liberal approaches of any country in Europe, but we also need to balance that with a determination to ensure that we are not overwhelming the NHS.”