NHS ENGLAND is cancelling all non-urgent operations for the next three months to free up beds for coronavirus patients.
Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS, told staff that 30,000 beds would be needed to cope with the expected surge in cases.
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In a letter to NHS bosses, Mr Stevens said coronavirus was "the greatest challenge the NHS has faced since its creation".
It comes as coronavirus cases exploded by 407 to 1,950 today in the biggest single leap in patients with the killer bug in one day.
The new NHS measures will mean all non-urgent elective operations will be postponed from April 15 for at least three months.
All hospital patients who are medically fit to leave will also be urgently discharged.
Sir Stevens also revealed that the NHS is in the process of nationally block-buying capacity in independent hospitals.
He said this process should be complete within in the next two weeks.
"In readiness for the likely influx of more coronavirus patients, we are going to be taking concerted action across the NHS … up to a third of the general and acute beds – perhaps 30,000 of those general and acute beds – for coronavirus patients," he said.
Sir Stevens also stressed the importance of keeping NHS staff well and at work.
He said that as extra coronavirus testing capability becomes available, Public Health England will be asked to establish targeted testing for staff for symptomatic staff who would otherwise have to self-isolate.
"For those staff affected by PHE’s 14 day household isolation policy, staff should – on an entirely voluntary basis – be offered the alternative option of staying in NHS-reimbursed hotel accommodation while they continue to work," he added.
Meanwhile, a frontline NHS anaesthetist revealed that patients in their 40s are being put on ventilators in hospitals as he warned that it's not just the elderly that are being affected.
It comes as the Government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance suggested there could be as many as 55,000 coronavirus cases already in the UK.
Health Select Committee chairman Jeremy Hunt asked whether the expected death rate was one fatality for every 1,000 cases, which would mean that there is "potentially 55,000 cases".
Asked if that felt right, Sir Patrick said: "We've tried to get a handle on that in Sage (the scientific advisory group for emergencies) and if you put all the modelling information together, that's a reasonable ballpark way of looking at it.
"It's not more accurate than that."
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday that all elective surgery that was not time sensitive would either be delayed or cancelled.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday evening, he told MPs: "The measures that I've just outlined are unprecedented in peacetime.
"We will fight this virus with everything we've got.
"We are in a war against an invisible killer and we've got to do everything we can to stop it."
He also said that ventilators were key to treating those suffering the worst of the disease.
The Prime Minister urged manufacturers to step up production of vital medical equipment such as ventilators, Downing Street has said.
In a conference call with more than 60 leading businesses and manufacturing organisations, the Prime Minister called on them to support the NHS by producing as many new ventilators as possible.
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