Professor Derek Alderson, of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “Those who four weeks ago were able to wait for a month, they can’t wait another month and another month.”

“There are measures the government can take to mitigate the risk of a really difficult winter,” he said, urging the NHS to make more use of capacity from the private sector, the Nightingale hospitals and the recently retired staff who have returned to boost the workforce.

But he said ensuring staff had access to Personal Protective Equipment and testing was crucial. 

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association, said the delays meant patients without Covid-19 were deteriorating, and some would lose lives.

He told The Sunday Times: “Many ill patients are not getting the care they so desperately need now and, crucially, risking their conditions getting worse, and with some maybe even dying as a result.”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the health service, said resuming services would be “more complex and challenging” than setting up the NHS for Covid-19.

He said the task facing the NHS was enormous: “This is not just about going back to normal we are still fighting the virus, and building parallel services alongside this, while protecting staff and patients, is going to be challenging.”

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