The independent healthcare sector will make thousands of hospital beds available as part of NHS England’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest NHS England-Improvement guidance states that the NHS needs to free up at least 30,000 of its 100,000 general and acute beds and supplement them with “all available additional capacity”.
Trusts have been asked to postpone all non-urgent elective operations from 15 April at the latest for a period of at least three months, although emergency admissions, cancer treatment and other clinically urgent care should continue unaffected.
In the interim, providers have been told to use all available capacity for elective operations, including the independent sector, before COVID-19 constraints curtail such work. This could free up 12,000 to 15,000 hospital beds across England, the document states.
David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, advised that until there is a national decision, both NHS and private planned care will continue in independent providers.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure people can still get access to care until the point when it is agreed to focus exclusively on COVID-19 and essential services,” he said.
NHS England is currently in the process of block-buying capacity in independent hospitals, which it said should be completed within a fortnight.
“Their staff and facilities will then be flexibly available to you for urgent surgery, as well as for repurposing their beds, operating theatres and recovery facilities to provide respiratory support for COVID-19 patients,” the guidance states.
Community health providers and social care providers are also being asked to free up community hospital and intermediate care beds that could be used flexibly within the next fortnight.