Jeremy Corbyn has branded private hospitals “disgraceful” for charging the NHS £300-a-bed for coronavirus patients.
The Labour leader hit out at the plans which could see ministers paying around £2.4m-a-day for the use of 8,000 private hopsital beds in an effort to relieve pressure on the NHS as the coronavirus outbreak intensifies.
The measures are expected to be announced as part of a series of emergency powers which could also see up to 10,000 troops deployed on the streets to help protect buildings and provide support to the elderly during isolation.
It comes as a new leaked Public Health England report suggested as many as 7.9m Brits could potentially be hospitalised with the virus within the next 12 months, putting intense pressure on NHS resources.
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth had already backed a call by the GMB Union, which represents NHS staff, to “requisition” beds in private hospitals to tackle the crisis, but Mr Corbyn said the facilities should be provided “rent free”.
In a tweet on Saturday, he said: “It’s disgraceful that private healthcare companies are making a profit out of the coronavirus.
“The beds should be used by the NHS. Rent free.”
Meanwhile, the GMB Union added the plans to pay for the spaces in private facilities was “obscene”.
“This is a public health emergency,” they tweeted. “Not a business opportunity for shoddy private healthcare chums to profiteer from distress.
“It’s time to take back these beds for the NHS. Rent-free.”
The row comes as a leaked PHE briefing said frontline healthcare workers would no longer be tested for the illness because labs could not keep up with the “signficant demand pressures”.
Instead, the report said from now on only the most seriously ill patients in hospitals will be tested, with checks also available for suspected patients in care homes and prisons where the virus has been detected.
Meanwhile, the document said it was “expected” that 80% of Brits could contract the illness within the next 12 months, with as many as 15% of the population requiring hospital treatment.
And the briefing also warned an estimated 500,000 of the 5 million people working in “essential services and critical infrastructure” could be off sick during a month long peak of the epidemic.
Responding to the report, Labour’s Jon Ashworth said the government should “produce a fully costed, comprehensive options plan now”.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Preparing for the spread of the coronavirus outbreak is a national priority and we’re calling on the manufacturing industry and all those with relevant expertise who might be able to come together to help the country tackle this national crisis.”