The Patients Association will provide a regular digest of news during this phase of the coronavirus pandemic, of which this is the first.

Cancellation of non-urgent surgery

NHS England has announced that it will be cancelling all non-urgent surgery for three months, starting from April 15th at the latest, but hospitals will be able to take action sooner if they need to. Hospitals are being instructed to discharge all inpatients who are capable of leaving, and community health services are being required to make arrangements to care for them. The NHS is trying to free up as much capacity, including hospital beds, as possible ahead of the anticipated rise in coronavirus case numbers.

Emergency legislation

The Government will table a COVID-19 Bill this week, to introduce a wide range of new measures to address the pandemic.

In many cases, it will introduce new powers that will be available to ministers in Whitehall, and in some cases in devolved administrations, but only on the advice of Chief Medical Officers (of which there is one each for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Measures will include making it possible for clinicians and professionals who have stopped working to re-join the workforce more easily, reducing administration around discharging patients from hospital, and enabling local authorities to be more flexible in prioritising their scarce resources.

Powers relating to schools, food supplies and large gatherings will also be created, but again not necessarily used straight away.

Case numbers

The latest statistics show that 50,442 people have been tested for coronavirus in the UK, of whom 48,492 were negative and 1,950 positive – an increase of 407 known cases. In total, 71 people are now known to have died, an increase of 14 in the last 24 hours.

Announcements by the Chancellor of the Exchequer

As the scale of the crisis has grown since last week’s Budget, the Chancellor has announced further measures. As many businesses face being without both staff and customers while social distancing measures are in place, the Government faces a challenge to ensure that businesses and other organisations, including charities, still exist when the restrictions are eventually relaxed.

Accordingly, Government-backed loans will be made available to businesses that need cash in order to keep going. Measures are being developed for sectors including airports and the hospitality sector. ‘Mortgage holidays’ and other measures to support people’s personal finances while their income may be at risk are being developed.

Further announcements are expected in the coming days.

Other announcements

The Government has advised against all non-essential foreign travel, for the next thirty days in the first instance.