The NHS in England is to scale back its capacity to treat patients with Covid-19 next week as demand drops amid concerns that the public believe the NHS is closed for all but coronavirus cases.

Widespread fears over the consequences of cancelling elective surgery and a huge reduction in patients attending emergency departments mean health service bosses will now free up beds set aside as part of the pandemic “surge” response.

In addition, a public information campaign will kick off this weekend to reinforce the message that the NHS is still open for business and that patients should access services in the normal way if they are unwell.

Senior NHS managers have told Health Service Journal that NHS England is to issue a plan for “releasing and redeploying some of the treatment capacity”.

Confronted by the prospect of overwhelming numbers, NHSE in March told trust managers to release 30,000 beds, by cancelling routine care and rapidly discharging patients, and also bought up nearly 10,000 beds in the private acute sector.

The government said yesterday the number of people in hospitals with Covid-19 had fallen by 10 per cent over the last week and HSJ reports that 42% of acute beds in England are now empty, far more than is normal for this time of year.

Health secreatry Matt Hancock told MPs this week that he wants “reopen the NHS” to patients with non-coronavirus conditions “as soon as it is safe to do so”.