NHS England suspending all non-urgent surgery to free up beds for coronavirus patients

NHS England is suspending non-urgent elective surgery from April 15 to free up beds for coronavirus patients, chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has said.

The health service is also in the process of block-buying beds in private hospitals within a fortnight and urgently discharging hospital inpatients who are medically fit.

The steps were outlined in a stark warning letter sent by Sir Simon and NHS Chief Operating Officer Amanda Pritchard about the impact the coronavirus outbreak will have on the health service.

The suspension of non-urgent surgery is expected to free up to 15,000 hospital beds across England.

  • ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan gives insight into what NHS workers are saying about the situation:

NHS England has admitted there are distribution problems with personal protection equipment for workers, but has insisted this is being rectified.

Sir Simon Stevens told MPs he wanted NHS staff to be confident they had the kit they need in response to concerns about the availability of personal protective equipment in hospitals.

He said the NHS was guided by Public Health England advice.

"We all believe that staff do have a right to expect the sort of protection that would give them confidence, so part of the question, the dialogue with PHE, is 'what is reasonable' in A&E departments and other parts of the hospital," he said.

The NHS is buying up blocks in private hospitals. Credit: PA

Sir Simon added the NHS had more than 28 million of the "most intense" kind of face masks, with more in production.

"Those face masks are here in the country," he said.

While work is already underway to secure a change in oxygen supply and distribution to hospitals and the aim is to have as many beds, critical care bays, theatre and recovery areas able to administer oxygen as possible.

The UK has 8,175 ventilators at its disposal, including 691 in private sector and 35 in Ministry of Defence.

NHS England admits there are distribution problems with personal protection equipment. Credit: PA

Sir Stevens said: "For some weeks now we have been out preparing and procuring our mechanical ventilators, and can see a line of sight over the next several weeks to another 3,799."

The government is working with manufacturers and asking them to make ventilators, as the virus infects more people.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged engineering firms, including carmakers, to explore if they could make the life-saving equipment.