London's Nightingale hospital 'remains on standby' despite staffing concerns

29 December 2020, 16:11

The Nightingale Hospital in London remains on standby
The Nightingale Hospital in London remains on standby. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

London's Nightingale hospital remains on standby, NHS England has said, despite concerns over how it would be staffed.

England's hospitals are currently seeing more Covid-19 patients than at the first-wave peak of the virus in April.

NHS England sent a letter to trusts on December 23 asking them to plan for the use of additional facilities such as the Nightingale hospitals amid rising numbers of patients with the virus.

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Amid reports that some equipment which was usually at the ExCel centre site had been removed, a spokesperson for the NHS said: "The Nightingale in London remains on standby and will be available to support the capital's hospitals if needed.

"In the meantime it is vital that Londoners do everything possible to reduce transmission and cut the number of new infections which otherwise inevitably result in more avoidable deaths."

Beds and ventilators have been removed, the Daily Telegraph reported.

But concerns have also been raised around the already-stretched health service's ability to staff the Nightingale facility as cases soar in the capital and increasing numbers of medical staff are forced to self-isolate.

Mervin Singer, professor of intensive care medicine at University College London, told LBC's Andrew Castle: “I think it was never fit for purpose as an intensive care unit, it’s not just the equipment but you need the staff and we normally have a ratio of one nurse to one patient for intensive care.

“In the spring we were operating at one to four and clearly if you are going to open up huge numbers of beds elsewhere, you have to staff them somehow.

“We were struggling to maintain our normal standards - where were we going to get people from to staff a whole load of extra beds - so it was to my mind a non-starter in the first place.”

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."

Other Nightingale hospitals in England include Manchester, Bristol, Exeter, Sunderland, Harrogate and Birmingham.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said they had been opened "at great expense and fanfare".

The Labour MP tweeted: "But the reality is years of Tory failures to invest in training and staffing has left NHS short of staff needed."

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