Matt Hancock has said the NHS is considering plans to move some patients into hotels in order to ease intense pressure on hospitals, as he stressed it was “impossible to know” the exact date lockdown restrictions would be eased.
The health secretary insisted the government will “look at all contingencies” as hospitals across England treat 35,000 coronavirus patients and the chief medical officer warned the coming weeks will be the “worst” for the health service during the pandemic.
Mr Hancock added that the Nightingale hospital in London was also receiving patients for the first time since April and that sending some patients to hotels was a “further back-up plan”.
His comments came after The Guardian reported thousands could be discharged to their own homes and hotels to free up beds for those suffering from Covid and would receive help from voluntary organisations such as St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross.
Asked about the reports, the cabinet minister told Sky News: “There are huge pressures on the NHS and we are looking to all different ways that we can receive those pressures.
He added: “We would only ever do that if it was clinically the right thing for somebody. In some cases, people need sit-down care, they don’t actually need to be in a hospital bed.
“It isn’t a concrete proposals by any means but it is something that we look at as we look at all contingencies.”
Mr Hancock later insisted on BBC Breakfast any measures to move patients to hotels to free up bed capacity was a “further-back plan” and only done if appropriate for “step-down” patients only.
As some Conservative backbenchers urge the government to consider a 8 March deadline for easing restrictions across the country, Mr Hancock insisted: “Well, it’s impossible to know and we’ll will keep the restrictions in place not a moment longer than they are necessary, but we will keep them in place as long as they are necessary.”
He claimed the vaccination rollout was “on track” to reach Boris Johnson’s target of inoculating 14 million of the most vulnerable people by 15 February and would accelerate over the coming weeks as more supplies become available.
Mr Hancock added: “These measures that we have got in place that we hope to be able to lift, and we should be able to lift when we have been able to protect through vaccination those who are vulnerable – right now the vaccination is not in a position to do that.”