NHS Nightingale hospitals in Manchester, Harrogate and Sunderland have been put on standby as coronavirus infections in the regions soar.
Revealing that there are now more patients in hospital with Covid-19 than when the government ordered the lockdown in March, the medical director of NHS England, Professor Stephen Powis, said: “As the infection rate has begun to grow across the country, hospital infections have started to rise.
“In the over-65s - particularly the over-85s - we are seeing steep rises in the numbers of people being admitted to hospital so the claim that the elderly can somehow be fenced off from risk is wishful thinking.”
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A leaked email sent to medics had fuelled speculation that fresh Covid outbreaks would trigger the reopening of emergency hospitals built to increase NHS capacity during the first wave of infections.
According to Politico London Playbook, nurses who worked in the London Nightingale hospital during the early days of the pandemic were last week sent a “hint, hint” reminder that their training remains valid.
Four further Nightingale hospitals currently remain on standby, but have not been told to mobilise staff and “in some cases [have been] repurposed or... considered for alternative use”, says The Guardian.
London’s Nightingale hospital - based at the ExCeL conference centre in the east of the capital - “would be the largest intensive care unit in Europe if fully operational”, but treated a only small number of patients during the initial wave of infections, adds the newspaper.
Discussions are reportedly already under way about using Bristol’s dormant Nightingale hospital, at the University of the West of England’s Frenchay campus, to provide additional capacity for the city’s Eye Hospital.
And councillors in Harrogate had called for the Nightingale facility there to be used as a flu vaccination centre in the run-up to winter.
Meanwhile, the Nightingale hospital in Birmingham “is being readied again to take patients at 48 hours’ notice, according to a hospital CEO in the city”, The Guardian reports. And the emergency hospital in Exeter is being used for a Covid-19 vaccine study.
Sunderland’s Nightingale Hospital, which was opened by TV presenters Ant and Dec in May, is also ready to be used in the event of “another surge of coronavirus”, says regional news site ChronicleLive. The seventh hospital, in Washington, Sunderland, has not been used but will remain available as long as necessary, health authorities have said.
When the emergency medical centres were first set up, the government boasted about the swiftness of their response, with the London Nightingale hospital built in just nine days.
But a leaked document seen by The Telegraph back in April revealed that the London hospital was “turning away more coronavirus patients than it is treating”, owing to a lack of staff.
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