Nightingale nurse shortage denied by NHS healthcare bosses

22 April 2020, 08:01

The NHS Nightingale hospital in London
The NHS Nightingale hospital in London. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Government and NHS officials have denied reports suggesting coronavirus patients have been turned away from London's new NHS Nightingale hospital due to a lack of nurses.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) branded a report by the Guardian as "misleading" after the newspaper claimed applications by several London NHS trusts to move coronavirus patients to the new facility in Docklands were rejected as there were too few nurses to treat them.

NHS London insisted there was spare capacity in the capital's critical care network.

The new Covid-19 hospital, with the capacity to treat up to 4,000 patients, was built in just nine days to help London's healthcare services deal with the pandemic.

It needs an army of up to 16,000 staff in clinical and ancillary roles to keep it going.

The Guardian reported the hospital has been unable to admit about 50 people with Covid-19 and needing "life or death" care since its first patient arrived on the site, with 30 rejected because of a lack of staff.

The newspaper said it had seen NHS documents saying the planned transfer of more than 30 patients to the ExCel exhibition centre site was "cancelled due to staffing issues".

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The DHSC hit out at the claims, the department said the Nightingale was designed to be an overspill facility in the event that hospitals in the capital became overwhelmed by patient numbers, and it was normal for transfer applications between hospitals in London to be refused if the correct facilities were not available.

It was never intended to be a fully staffed intensive care unit, and nurses working at London hospital ICUs could be sent there if needed.

A spokesman said: "It is misleading to suggest coronavirus patients are being turned away from NHS Nightingale due to a shortage of staff.

"NHS Nightingale has been set up to treat patients if the NHS was overwhelmed but thanks to the great work of selfless NHS staff, there is spare capacity in existing London hospitals to treat all coronavirus patients there instead."

NHS London said: "The most important point about staff at the Nightingale is that thanks to their care and expertise, patients in that hospital are being successfully treated, discharged and ultimately having their life saved.

"There remains spare capacity in the critical care network across the capital to look after all coronavirus patients and others who need our care, and while it is incredibly reassuring for both staff and patients to have backup capacity at the Nightingale to alleviate pressure on ICU departments where needed, patients can be transferred to other hospitals in the city if they are better placed to receive them at that time - as is always the case."

The report comes after the first patients were discharged from the Nightingale on Sunday, having been successfully treated.

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said it would be a "huge success" if beds at the Nightingale were never needed and praised the work of NHS workers so far in the crisis.

"We have not yet had to make extensive use of the Nightingale London thanks to the hard work of NHS staff - who have freed up more than 30,000 existing hospital beds - and the public, who have played their part by staying at home and saving lives," he said.

"It will count as a huge success for the whole country if we never need to use them but with further waves of coronavirus possible it is important that we have these extra facilities in place and treating patients."