Britain has ordered England’s health service to strike a deal with private health companies to provide crucial treatments such as cancer surgery should Omicron overwhelm the National Health Service (NHS).

The deal, ordered by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, allows NHS hospitals to send a wider range of patients to the private sector for treatments such as cancer surgery and other care not normally delivered under existing arrangements.

It also places independent health providers on standby to provide further help should hospitals face unsustainable levels of hospitalisations or staff absences,” said David Sloman, NHS England chief operating officer and COVID incident director.

The agreement includes Practice Plus Group, Spire Healthcare, Nuffield Health, Circle Health Group, Ramsay Healthcare UK, Healthcare Management Trust, One Healthcare, Horder Healthcare, Aspen Healthcare and KIMS Hospital, the NHS said.