Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth says ministers should use emergency powers to guarantee doctors have access to beds in privately-run hospitals and clinics should NHS capacity run out.
It comes amid fears the disease could push the NHS to breaking point, with prime minister Boris Johnson warning the UK faced “the worst public health crisis in a generation” and that “many more families would lose loved ones before their time”.
Medics have cautioned there could be a national shortage of critical care beds and that, as well as coronavirus patients, people with serious conditions may require emergency treatment.
It is thought there as many as 8,000 beds in the UK’s 570 private hospitals, and that some could be turned into intensive care units in an emergency.
The GMB union, which represents NHS staff, is also pressuring health secretary Matt Hancock to draw up plans.
Ashworth told HuffPost UK: “The government should leave no stone unturned when it comes to supporting our NHS and making sure it is best equipped to protect life throughout the Covid-19 outbreak.
It would be completely wrong for the government not to call on all the resources possible.Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth
“That’s why we support GMB’s calls to requisition private hospital beds and increase capacity to meet the rising demand.
“As the prime minster said, this is the worst public health crisis for a generation. It would be completely wrong for the government not to call on all the resources possible.”
Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB union, called on the PM to match words with action, adding: “It can’t be right that we have plush private hospitals lying empty waiting for the wealthy to fall ill, while people are left in dying in hospitals for the want of a bed.
“Do the right thing and let these unused beds be requisitioned by the NHS to save lives.”
The union’s London regional secretary Warren Kenny added: “The government and their advisers must have available to them the powers to requisition these hospital beds if required to increase capacity to deal with the crisis.”
HuffPost UK has contacted the Department for Health and Social Care for comment.
Johnson this week confirmed that the UK had moved from the “contain” phase of dealing with the outbreak to “delay”.
Elections for regional mayors and local councillors, which were due to take place on May 7, have now been postponed.
The PM on Thursday chose not to close schools and ban large gatherings, but did not rule out such a move in future.
A string of high-profile events were nonetheless called off by organisers in a bid to slow the contagion.
The London Marathon, which was planned for April, has been postponed to October 4.
Radio 1 has cancelled its three-day music festival One Big Weekend, which was due to take place in May in Dundee.
The Premier League and English Football League have suspended matches until April 3.
The UK death toll for the disease stands at 10.
A total of 798 people have so far tested positive for coronavirus, the Department of Health and Social Care said on Friday.
Some 32,771 people have been tested, with 31,973 results coming back negative, the government added.