• NHSE will issue plan next week
  • Comes after 30,000 beds released
  • Trusts CEOs keen to resume electives

NHS England will next week set out a plan for “releasing and redeploying some of the treatment capacity” created to deal with coronavirus, now the healthcare impact of the peak of the virus has passed.

As cases mounted in mid March, NHSE asked the service to release 30,000 beds, by cancelling routine care and rapidly discharging patients, and block booked private sector hospitals to create nearly a further 10,000.

The government said yesterday the number of people in hospitals with covid-19 had fallen by 10 per cent over the last week. Around 42 per cent of acute beds are now unoccupied, according to figures seen by HSJ — much greater than normal for this time of yearThe peak of new infection cases in hospitals was at about 3,000 on 1 April — the number is now about half that figure.

An NHSE spokesman told HSJ this afternoon: “Next week we will set out guidance to the service on releasing and redeploying some of the treatment capacity that needed to be created while the number of covid-19 patients was rising so sharply.

“A public information campaign beginning this weekend will remind people that the NHS remains open for business, and it is important that non-covid19 patients can also still safely access the appropriate care and treatment they need.”

There has been mounting concern about the impact of delaying so much planned care, and that people are avoiding emergency care partly because they think the NHS is closed. Emergency department attendances have fallen by about half, and emergency admissions have also plummeted.

HSJ today reported several trust chief executives are keen to resume routine elective work and are exploring how. 

Yet there will be concern about releasing the freed up space, staff and kit — much of which was used to create spaces with oxygen support, and some critical care, for patients with coronavirus — in case there are further peaks of the virus and associated demand.

Bringing back more normal work may also require further major restructure to try to separate ”hot” or “red” covid-19 services from “cold” or “green” covid-19-free areas. There is a debate about how much the private sector should be relied on for routine elective care; and how to use the new temporary Nightingale hospitals.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons on Wednesday government wanted to “reopen the NHS” to patients with non-coronavirus conditions “as soon as it is safe to do so”.