The NHS is capable of doubling the amount of intensive care beds available should there be a peak in the number of people hospitalised by swine flu, the government has announced.

The number of adult intensive care beds in England could rise to about 4,000 from the current level of 1,982 if necessary, the 10 strategic health authorities have told ministers. The number of intensive care beds for children will double from 363 to 700 in the event of a major upswing in infections.

The beds are capable of supporting people who need ventilation and have organ failure. Ian Dalton, the government’s director for flu resilience, said that the NHS’s capacity to ventilate patients would double.

Some hospitals have ordered new ventilators but most of the demand will be met by moving ventilators out of operating theatres and into intensive care wards. This will only be made possible by cancelling planned operations - something ministers expect will happen if there is a surge in the number of swine flu cases this winter.

Other plans set down by the government include training staff in other areas of expertise than the one they currently work in.