The private healthcare sector is joining forces with the NHS as part of an emergency plan to combat the growing coronavirus outbreak, according to reports.
It comes amid fears that NHS hospitals will soon be unable to cope with the number of patients suffering from the virus.
An open letter from academics to Boris Johnson warned that the UK was seeing infections grow at the same rate as in Italy, Spain, France and Germany, which meant Britain’s infected would “be in the order of thousands within a few days”.
The letter said millions of Brits could be affected in the next few weeks and that the NHS would be at serious risk of not being able to cope.
The government is in talks with manufacturers to increase the supply of ventilators, which will be needed to treat patients with the most severe symptoms of Covid-19.
NHS England is also issuing new guidance to hospitals and clinical commissioning groups on working with the private sector to carry out more non-urgent operations on NHS patients to free up beds, the Observer reports.
“We need all parts of the health sector to step up and play their part given what’s coming our way,” a senior NHS official told the newspaper. “They have the things we’re going to need: space on wards, beds and people.”
NHS bosses expect the cost of expanding the independent sector’s role to be met from the government’s £5bn Covid-19 response fund, which was announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the Budget last week.
Spire Healthcare, which runs 39 hospitals across England, Scotland and Wales, has offered to help the NHS, although a spokesman said the exact nature, extent and the timing of this support is yet to be determined.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised concerns over the government’s strategy to develop “herd immunity” – where a large proportion of the population catch, recover and therefore develop immunity from the virus.
Margaret Harris, of WHO, said: “We don’t know enough about the science of this virus, it hasn’t been in our population for long enough to know what it does in immunological terms. Every virus functions differently in your body and stimulates a different immunological profile.”
Labour’s health spokesman, Jonathan Ashworth, said delaying the spread of the virus has to be a priority so as not to overwhelm the overstretched NHS.