Critically ill patients could be moved hundreds of miles from London to the West Country under emergency plans to help hospitals overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases.

The proposals could see areas such as London where the NHS is at its limit 'paired' with areas with lower infection rates, as well as London's Nightingale hospital reopen.

This comes amid rumours of a third full national lockdown as the country suffers from a surging second wave, with cases higher than ever in the capital

As reported in The Times, in an effort to cope with Covid-19 wards "aggressively overstretched," London patients will be moved hundreds of miles to the West Country where cases are lower, whilst other areas of the country will also 'pair up'.

These are believed to be the first 'national pairing arrangements' since the NHS was formed.

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According to the reports, patients in the east of England will be moved to the Midlands while health trusts in London and the southeast are preparing to transfer patients to hospitals in the southwest.

The plans will also see the Nightingale hospital at London’s Excel centre reopen within a fortnight.

Doctors have been warning that hospitals in London are being overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, and have passed beyond the point of ideal care.

Just last week, Queen Elizabeth Hospital here in Woolwich declared an internal incident due to the number of Covid-19 patients, and due to a shortage of oxygen.

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Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, confirmed that a small number of patients will be transferred to the South West and Midlands from the worst-hit areas.

Mr Hopson said: “At the moment hospitals are doing a great job creating extra surge capacity in London and the southeast to treat the critically ill.

“If it gets more difficult, we will find other ways to treat people within the region but we know there are some patients that can be moved to where the pressure is slightly less, for example the southwest and Midlands.

“There are particular complex patients with specialist critical care needs who can be safely moved, allowing hospitals in London and the southeast to look after more Covid patients that, at the moment, just keep arriving.

“If we get full spread of that variant throughout the country then it could cause real issues for many northern and Midlands hospitals who are still full with patients from the second surge in the autumn.”

Meanwhile, in East London, bosses at the Royal London Hospital told staff it was in “disaster mode” and unable to provide “high-standard critical care”.

Staff at Guy’s at St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust also face “horrifying” decisions.