SOUTHEND and Basildon hospitals are forming contingency plans in case the Omicron variant leads to overwhelming hospitalisations and staff absences.

Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospitals, has identified independent sites for ‘super surge’ wards, but says it has yet to exceed hospital capacity.

As part of plans to work through sky-rocketing Covid-19 cases, hospitals have been asked to identify areas such as gyms and education centres in preparation for potentially overwhelming numbers of coronavirus patients.

The trust has declined to name the sites, but says it is prepared for a worst-case scenario.

The hospitals will be able to quickly activate the extra surge capacity as part of the national Covid response, under a new deal announced yesterday

A spokesperson from Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust said: “Currently the hospital beds available at our trust can meet demand.

“Potential locations on hospital sites have been identified, we hope we will not have to use them, but it is right we prepare for all scenarios.”

The three-month agreement, will also allow NHS trusts to send patients to the independent sector for treatment including those requiring some forms of cancer surgery.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “NHS staff continue to go above and beyond to ensure people get the treatment they need this winter and our support for the NHS through this challenging period remains at full throttle.

“This agreement demonstrates the collaboration across our health care services to create an additional safeguard that ensures people can continue to get the care they need from our world-leading NHS, whenever they need it.”

NHS England chief operating officer and Covid incident director Sir David Sloman added: “NHS staff have done an incredible job over the last year recovering elective treatment levels and then keeping non-Covid services going as pressures have built.

“With the high number of Omicron cases placing even greater pressure on hospitals now and over the coming weeks, this deal, struck under direction from the Secretary of State, means as many people as possible can continue to get the care they need.”