ExCel owners U-turn after 'charging NHS millions for Nightingale hospital

The owners of the ExCel centre have said they will cover the cost of rent after charging the NHS between £2 and £3 million per month to use it as a temporary hospital for coronavirus patients, it has been reported.

The Nightingale Hospital in east London – one of several planned temporary hospitals – was officially opened on Friday by Matt Hancock and will treat up to 4,000 patients, making it one of the world’s biggest hospitals.

But it today emerged that the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company, which owns the centre, would be charging the NHS millions of pounds in rent, The Sunday Times reports.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth described the reported deal as an ‘absolute outrage’. He added: ‘Staff and patients will be disgusted at the billionaire owners of the ExCeL centre. They should be prepared to offer the facilities for free.’

Another temporary coronavirus hospital has been set up at the NEC in Birmingham, but US owners Blackstone have loaned it to the NHS for free.

It said it would put ‘the entire NEC facility at the disposal of the NHS for as long as it needs it’.

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The health service had reportedly been ‘desperate’ to secure a big venue when it signed for the ExCel centre, as London hospitals were being overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients. 

A source who spoke to the Times said: ‘If you want to do that deal, you haven’t got much time to negotiate.’

ExCel CEO Jeremy Rees told the newspaper that the centre would ‘in no way profit from NHS Nightingale’ and instead was operating ‘solely to give the NHS and its wonderful staff all the support they need’.

He said the initial agreement with the NHS included ‘a contribution’ to some fixed costs’, but has now said that ‘we have since decided to cover the fixed costs ourselves.’

NHS Nightingale hospitals are also planned for Manchester’s Central Complex, the University of the West of England, Bristol, and Harrogate’s Convention Centre.

The coronavirus death toll in the UK is now at 4,353. There are more than 41,000 confirmed cases.

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