AN massive influx of seriously ill coronavirus victims into hospital could mean older and weaker patients are denied treatment.
Doomsday planning could see an overwhelmed NHS call on a "Three Wise Men" protocol — where three senior doctors choose which patients had the best chance of surviving.
The "wise men" protocol was developed by the NHS Committee on Ethical Aspects of Pandemic Influenza "to minimise the harm the pandemic causes".
The Government has repeatedly asserted the NHS was well able to deal with a pandemic crisis.
But doctors have told the Independent critical care capacity was already overstretched and "would crumble".
One doctor said: "If you can imagine the real worst-case scenarios where supply is massively outstripped by demand we would have to refuse to admit many people who would normally get ventilated."
Another critical care consultant, from a major south London hospital, told the publication: "We would be making decisions about people's lives. There just isn't any slack in the system."
This is something we face as really quite a serious problem for society potentially if this goes out of control
It comes as the total number of Covid-19 cases in the UK has risen to 16, after three people were diagnosed yesterday.
The first positive test for coronavirus in Northern Ireland was confirmed at a briefing in Belfast.
Its Public Health Agency said it was "working rapidly" to identify anyone the patient came into contact with to prevent a further spread.
The person had recently returned from northern Italy and had previously been in Dublin.
Meanwhile coronavirus panic buying of food, medicines, masks and hand santisers have been reported across the UK and Europe.
Earlier today England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Witty warned onward transmission between people who had not been to a coronavirus hotspot was "just a matter of time".
He said: "If this becomes a global epidemic, then the UK will get it.
"One of the things that's really clear with this virus, much more so than flu, is that anything we do we're going to have to do for quite a long period of time, probably more than two months.
"This is something we face as really quite a serious problem for society potentially if this goes out of control."
DEADLY SPREAD: Coronavirus cases in the UK
ANOTHER two cases of coronavirus have today been confirmed in the UK – barely a month since the deadly bug first reached our shores.
The first cases were diagnosed on January 31 when a student and relative were tested positive in York.
The victims were quarantined in Newcastle as UK authorities vowed they would control the virus' spread.
However, by February 6 another patient was diagnosed with coronavirus.
The Brit – businessman Steve Walsh – contracted the bug in Singapore before travelling to the French Alps for a holiday before returning to his home in Hove, East Sussex.
He became known as a superspreader by unwittingly infecting a number of other Brits in France with him.
Mr Walsh, who since recovered, then infected another five people who were treated in the UK.
By February, another patient was taken to Guy's and St Thomas' after contracting coronavirus in China – bringing the total to nine.
Another four cases were recorded just a week later after being flown back to the UK from the plague cruise ship, the Diamond Princess.
The group had been quarantined in Arrowe Park but were quickly moved to a treatment centre.
And now today, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty confirmed another two patients had tested positive.
The virus was passed on in Italy and Tenerife and the patients have been transferred to specialist NHS infection centres in Royal Liverpool Hospital and the Royal Free Hospital, London.
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