At the same time, NHS hospitals have been told to identify areas such as gyms and education centres that can be used to create “super surge” wards on top of their usual surge capacity.
The deal allows NHS trusts to send a wider range of patients to private hospitals, including those requiring some forms of cancer surgery and other care not normally delivered under existing contracts.
The arrangement would only be triggered if the NHS’s ability to provide urgent care were threatened by the number of Covid patients requiring treatment.
Latest figures in London suggest the number of Covid patients being admitted daily has fallen from more than 500 a day in the middle of last week to just over 300.
There are also hopes that the number of Covid inpatients has plateaued after peaking at more than 4,000 between Christmas and New Year.
The private hospitals involved in the deal include Spire Healthcare, Nuffield Health and the Circle Health Group.
If NHS trusts or local networks need to trigger the surge element of the new deal routine services at an independent sector site will be suspended to make facilities and staff available to the health service.
Nightingale hubs are already being created in the grounds of some hospitals, such as St George’s in Tooting, as part of a move to create up to 4,000 extra beds.
Sir David Sloman, NHS England chief operating officer and Covid incident director, said: “With the high number of Omicron cases placing even greater pressure on hospitals now and over the coming weeks, this deal, struck under direction from the Secretary of State, means as many people as possible can continue to get the care they need.
“It also places independent health providers on standby to provide further help should hospitals face unsustainable levels of hospitalisations or staff absences.
“Just like the Nightingale hubs being created across the country, we hope never to need their support but it will be there if needed.”
The private sector is already being used by the NHS to tackle the backlog of non-emergency care that has resulted from the pandemic, with about six million people in England awaiting treatment.
Private hospitals were previously asked to assist the NHS in the first phase of the pandemic but there were concerns that the deal, worth an estimated £300m a month, resulted in fewer NHS procedures being done in the independent sector than normal and it treating as few as eight Covid patients a day.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “This agreement demonstrates the collaboration across our health care services to create an additional safeguard that ensures people can continue to get the care they need.”