NHS on highest alert: Health chiefs say coronavirus is 'level four emergency'

Patients will be offered video appointments to prevent them turning up at overstretched and overcrowded hospitals.

As the entire NHS was put on the highest level of alert to deal with coronavirus, it emerged Skype calls will be given to those with long-term conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, who attend regular outpatient clinics.

Meanwhile, hospitals are being urged to prepare 'coronavirus wards' for large groups of infected patients to prevent the spread of the virus to other wards.

It comes as the NHS has been put on Operation Level 4 – the highest level of demand – in anticipation of a surge in cases over the next few weeks.

The measures were set out in a letter to health managers from the NHS's strategic incident director for coronavirus Professor Keith Willett. 

He urges chief executives to carry out coronavirus 'test runs' to practise dealing with a sudden influx of patients.

NHS staff wait for suspected coronavirus patients to arrive at a Milton Keynes compound where tests were conducted on Wuhan evacuees

NHS staff wait for suspected coronavirus patients to arrive at a Milton Keynes compound where tests were conducted on Wuhan evacuees

Coronavirus assessment pods at Chesterfield Royal Hospital, in Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Coronavirus assessment pods at Chesterfield Royal Hospital, in Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Boris Johnson visiting staff at Kettering General Hospital where he reviewed their coronavirus preparations

Boris Johnson visiting staff at Kettering General Hospital where he reviewed their coronavirus preparations

Staff should also be fully trained in putting on hazmat suits, as well as the basics of washing their hands between patients.

And NHS regional trusts have also been told to set up COVID-19 Incident Coordination Centres, which will work seven days a week to provide advice to hospitals, ambulance services and GPs.

Professor Willett's letter, sent on Monday, states: 'As you will be aware, the current outbreak of a novel coronavirus is resulting in national and international preparations to be stepped up.

'In declaring a Level 4 incident, NHS England and NHS Improvement have established an incident management team with an operational incident coordination centre established seven days a week, working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care,

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