What has happened to England’s seven Nightingale hospitals?
Seven Nightingale hospitals, built to cope with the feared pressures on the NHS in England from a first Covid-19 wave, remain on standby – albeit in some cases repurposed or having been considered for alternative use.
They include one at the ExCeL conference centre in east London that can provide up to 500 intensive care beds, and which would be the largest intensive care unit in Europe if fully operational. It has treated a small number of patients, all of whom have left.
In Bristol, plans were discussed for the dormant Nightingale hospital at the University of the West of England’s Frenchay campus to provide additional capacity for the city’s eye hospital, it was reported this week.
In Harrogate, local councillors earlier this month called for the Nightingale facility there to be used to take pressure off the NHS in other ways, such as providing a flu vaccination centre. They were told by the director of the West Yorkshire and Harrogate health and care partnership board that authorities hoped it would not be needed in the winter months.
Video: Antibiotics could replace or delay surgery for appendicitis (Cover Video)
A Nightingale hospital in Birmingham is being readied again to take patients at 48 hours’ notice, according to a hospital CEO in the city. And in the south-west, the Nightingale hospital in Exeter is being used for a Covid-19 vaccine study.
In the north-east, which has a number of Covid-19 hotspots, the Nightingale hospital in Washington, Sunderland, which has not been used, will remain available as long as necessary, health authorities say.
The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said on Wednesday that the Nightingale there could work as a “backup plan” quite quickly in the event of Covid admissions worsening, although staffing levels would have to be increased.
Despite the Nightingales being hailed by government ministers, who emphasised the role of army field planners in helping to build the flagship facility in east London from scratch over nine days, they have not been without problems. Dozens of patients with Covid-19 were turned away in London, because the Nightingale hospital therehad too few nurses to treat them.