NHS England to be placed on highest alert level as coronavirus cases soar

4 November 2020, 12:24 | Updated: 4 November 2020, 13:40

Medical staff in one of the NHS Nightingale hospitals
Medical staff in one of the NHS Nightingale hospitals. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The NHS in England is set to be placed on its highest alert level as coronavirus cases soar across the country.

The health service will move to level four alert from midnight tonight, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens announced.

It comes amid concerns it may run out of beds to treat coronavirus patients.

There are four incident levels used across the NHS, with level four granting health chiefs emergency powers to take control of local hospitals.

Coronavirus was previously declared a level four incident by the NHS in January, although this was not confirmed until March.

In a press conference from University College Hospital, Sir Simon said the health service has prepared "very carefully" for the "next phase of coronavirus".

But he added: "However well-prepared hospitals, the NHS, GP surgeries are, it is going to be a difficult period."

He said: "We want to try and ensure the health service is there for everybody, minimising the disruption to the full range of care that we provide, not just Covid but cancer services, routine operations and mental health services.

"And the truth, unfortunately, is that, if coronavirus takes off again, that will disrupt services.

"We are seeing that in parts of the country where hospitals are dealing with more coronavirus patients now than they were in April."

NHS England's national medical director Professor Stephen Powis there are now just under 11,000 Covid-19 patients in hospitals in England, more than 50% of the peak in spring.

He said infection rates have been high in the North and North West for several weeks, but that infections are increasing elsewhere.

Sir Simon warned many European countries are being forced to defer non-Covid care.

He said the UK's Nightingale hospitals have been kept ready to try and minimise disruption over the winter.

Prof Powis said: "Nightingales have been kept ready over the summer in case we faced a second wave.

“Several weeks ago we asked the Nightingales in the north of the country where infection rates were highest to ready themselves to take patients.

"Indeed the Nightingale in Manchester has already started to take patients."

Prof Powis said health staff are feeling a lot of anxiety going into winter as a second Covid-19 wave looms.

He said: "But there there is a lot of determination to get the job done, that is why our staff get out of bed in the morning."

He added: "They need all of us to assist them in doing that. This won't be a normal winter unless we all assist.

"This is a new virus, the immunity in the population is uncertain but certainly lower than we would see for other infections, so in addition to all the usual viruses we usually see in winter we have this unique new virus."

He said NHS staff risk becoming overwhelmed if the public refuse to comply with measures put in place to curb the disease.