A Covid ITU nurse has accused the Health Secretary of “shocking incompetence” as it emerged the NHS cannot use thousands of emergency private hospital beds after he failed to renew contracts.
The latest blunder by Matt Hancock means 8,000 beds the NHS could use are lying empty as its own hospitals face being overwhelmed.
Doctors’ pleas for help have been pushed back by “independent” hospitals after special Covid crisis deals expired last month.
But private sector bosses say they are ready to help – and the decision to end the contracts was “entirely” down to ministers.
It comes as:
Critical care nurse Dave Carr, who works at London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, blasted Mr Hancock for his performance.
He said: “It’s shocking incompetence and shows a total lack of planning.
“It’s beyond a joke when hospitals all over the country are expanding bed capacity way beyond normal limits, and deaths are reaching 100,000. It is a scandal.
“We are seeing people dying all the time, telling families we couldn’t save loved ones.
“I’ve had handovers where junior nurses sit there crying. We’ve had nurses diagnosed with PTSD after the first wave, who have had counselling and come back to the same situation.
“Matt Hancock is not fit for the job. If I behaved at my job the way he is running the health service I would be sacked.”
Mr Hancock, seen out for a walk in a London park yesterday, has made other blunders including missing targets on PPE and testing.
He has also been slated for ordering Covid carriers back into care homes while claiming to be throwing a “protective ring” round them.
His latest gaffe comes after 10 hospital trusts across England reported having no spare critical care beds for most of last week.
Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals, and Portsmouth Hospitals were among those with no capacity left in the week to January 10.
Up to 4,632 of 5,503 critical care beds in Eng-land’s acute trusts were in use on January 10.
Mr Carr added: “Without a doubt the Government has failed to protect the NHS.
“It has put staff and the public in harm’s way. The anger is really mounting in hospitals.”
The fiasco comes amid shortages and wards being closed, and some critically ill patients having to be transferred hundreds of miles.
Hospitals in London, Sheffield and Newcastle are being overwhelmed, and border services are sending patients to Scotland.
In Birmingham life-saving kidney transplants have been put on hold.
The capital, one of the hardest-hit areas, is facing a shortage of 2,000 beds by this week, even if the 4,000-bed Nightingale facility is included.
The private sector’s 25 London hospitals have capacity for half that.
The crisis is expected to get worse nationally over the next fortnight.
Treasury officials are planning to resolve the shambles by triggering “surge” emergency payments to get the deals back on track.
But the plans are not expected to be in place for another two weeks and will end in April.
The move, which unofficial estimates say will cost £5billion, follows outrage among medics that private hospitals have returned to routine treatments while the NHS cannot.
In a letter to health trust leaders last week, NHS England regional director for London Vin Diwakar said the inequality “feels profoundly uncomfortable”.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Doctors and nurses have been warning ministers for months to prepare our NHS.
“After years of Tory bed cuts and now Covid we are in a national emergency. These private beds should be available.”
Unison general secretary-elect Christina McAnea said: “Private profit has no long-term place in healthcare.
“But arrangements were in place to help the NHS and now they are not – because the Government let them lapse.”
David Hare, boss of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, insisted private providers were not to blame and were “committed to giving the NHS the support it needs”.
He added: “It is becoming increasingly clear that the NHS once again needs supporting in a much more significant and flexible way.”
Mr Hancock agreed at the start of the first wave to “block book” private hospital spaces.
The £400million-a-month contracts gave the NHS access to 8,000 hospital beds and thousands of medical staff.
But they all came to an end in December last year.
A private sector insider said Mr Hancock was told independent providers were willing to continue the arrangement and its ending “was entirely a decision for Government”.
The NHS went into the second Covid crunch with at least 5,500 fewer beds than it had in 2019.
The shortage is due partly to cuts over the past 10 years, partly to the need to keep greater distance between beds to help slow Covid’s spread.
Some estimates say there are up to 15,000 fewer beds now than 10 years ago.
Two thirds of England’s 233 NHS Trusts are treating more coronavirus sufferers than at the peak of the first wave, with Covid patients taking up a third of all beds.
A Health Department spokesman said: “The NHS is working closely and flexibly with independent sector providers to secure more capacity to provide services including cancer surgery, diagnostics and treatments to help alleviate pressures.”