Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England, said there had been a ‘very substantial’ increase in ‘desperately sick patients in hospitals’ in October.

It comes ahead of a new national lockdown coming in tomorrow, when non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants will have to close, although schools will remain open.

Sir Simon said that the actions taken by Parliament would mean that the health service should be able to avoid postponing routine operations.

He also said that the NHS would be ‘geared up’ to start delivering any potential Covid vaccine before Christmas.


NHS Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens


And he suggested that all patient-facing NHS staff would soon be given routine testing, regardless of symptoms.

Sir Simon told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We began early September with under 500 coronavirus patients in hospitals.

‘By the beginning of October that had become 2,000. As of today that is just under 11,000.

‘So, put another way, we’ve got 22 hospitals’ worth of coronavirus patients across England.

‘And indeed, even since Saturday, when the Prime Minister gave his press conference, we filled another two hospitals full of severely ill coronavirus patients.’

He added: ‘In many parts of the country we’re now seeing more coronavirus inpatients in hospital and in intensive care than we saw in the first peak in April.’

Sir Simon said the NHS wants to ‘minimise’ coronavirus ‘spiralling out of control’ so other services are not disrupted.

Ahead of the Commons vote, Mr Johnson warned of ‘fatalities running in the thousands’ if no action was taken as cases across the country continued to rise.

At the same time he sought to offer hope, telling Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting that the R number – the reproduction rate of the virus – was ‘only just above 1’ and the new measures would bring it back below that threshold.

The latest Government figures showed that a further 397 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday, bringing the UK total to 47,250, while there were a further 20,018 lab-confirmed cases of the disease.

Ministers hope that when the restrictions are lifted the Government will be able to return to a tiered series of localised restrictions for England, depending on the infection rate in a particular area.