Andrew Pierce 6pm - 10pm
Nightingale hospitals across England being 'readied' for use as Covid patient numbers rise
31 December 2020, 13:25 | Updated: 31 December 2020, 13:39
Nightingale hospitals across England are being "readied" for use if needed as Covid patient numbers rise.
The NHS in London has been asked to make sure the Excel centre site is "reactivated and ready to admit patients" as hospitals in the capital struggle.
Other Nightingale hospital sites across England include Manchester, Bristol, Sunderland, Harrogate, Exeter and Birmingham.
Millions more Brits woke up to tighter Covid restrictions on Thursday, with an additional 20 million people in almost total lockdown from one minute past midnight, taking the total number to 44 million - 78% of England's population.
On Wednesday, the UK recorded a further 50,023 cases and 981 deaths, the highest death toll since 24 April.
A spokesman for the NHS said: "Hospitals in London are coming under significant pressure from high Covid-19 infection rates and while staff are going the extra mile and the NHS in London is opening more beds in NHS hospitals across the capital to care for the most unwell patients, it is crucial that people do everything they can to reduce transmission of the virus.
"In anticipation of pressures rising from the spread of the new variant infection, NHS London were asked to ensure the London Nightingale was reactivated and ready to admit patients as needed, and that process is under way."
The Exeter site received its first Covid patients in November when it began accepting those transferred from the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, which was described as "very busy".
The Nightingale hospitals in Manchester, Bristol and Harrogate are in use currently for non-Covid patients, the spokesman said.
He added: "Covid inpatient numbers are rising sharply so the remaining Nightingales are being readied to admit patients once again should they be needed, in line with best clinical practice developed over the first and second waves of coronavirus."
NHS England medical director Stephen Powis has described the Nightingale hospitals as "our insurance policy, there as our last resort".
He told the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday: "We asked all the Nightingale hospitals a few weeks ago to be ready to take patients if that was required.
"Indeed, some of them are already doing that, in Manchester taking step-down patients, in Exeter managing Covid patients, and in other places managing diagnostics, for instance.
"Our first steps though, in managing the extra demands on the NHS, are to expand capacity within existing hospitals - that's the best way to use our staff."
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)."