The Nightingale hospital sites across England include Manchester, Bristol, Sunderland, Harrogate, Exeter, Birmingham and London are on standby to take patients, according to Boris Johnson. The majority are reportedly yet to start treating Covid-19 patients during the second wave, although the Exeter site received its first patients in November. Jonathan from South London asked the Prime Minister during the press briefing: “Given the high rates of Covid infections and hospital admissions, why has the government decided not to reopen the Nightingale hospitals?”
Speaking at Downing Street, Mr Johnsons said: “As far as I know we are going to be making sure the Nightingale hospitals are available.
“They certainly are available but they’re there not to be used immediately as long as the other provision is still there.”
NHS England Professor Stephen Powis added: “The Nightingale hospitals have been there over the course of the year.
“They are our insurance policy, there as our last resort.
“We asked all the Nightingale hospitals a few weeks ago to be ready to take patients if that was required.”
It comes as the Health Secretary has denied reports that London’s Nightingale hospital is being dismantled, insisting it is ready for use “as back-up”.
Matt Hancock said recent stories reporting that the 4,000-bed, custom-built field hospital had been decommissioned were “wrong”, despite the removal of some equipment from the site.
It is understood some equipment initially put in the ExCel centre site when it opened in April is no longer there, with the Daily Telegraph reporting beds and ventilators had been removed.
“I’ve seen some stories circulating saying it has been decommissioned – those stories are wrong.
“But it is better for people if they are treated inside a hospital, but of course the Nightingales are there for extra support should it be needed.
“And it will require changes to working patterns of staff if we do need to have patients in the Nightingales once more, but it is crucial, in my view, that we have those Nightingales there ready in case we need them.”
Concerns have been raised around the already stretched health service’s ability to staff Nightingale facilities.
Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “It is not ‘just the case’ of using the Nightingale hospital as there are simply no staff for them to run as they were originally intended (mini intensive care units).
“They could play a role perhaps if used as rehabilitation units for those recovering but, again, where do we find the specialist staff? The NHS simply does not have the capacity to spare anyone.”