NHS 'back in eye of the storm' as Nightingale hospitals sit empty

Nightingale hospitals stand empty despite there now being more coronavirus patients in England’s hospitals than in the first wave.

Health bosses warned doctors and nurses are ‘back in the eye of the storm’ and the country is well and truly in the second wave of the pandemic.

NHS England figures show there were 20,426 patients in NHS hospitals in England as of 8am yesterday, compared to the 18,974 patients recorded on April 12.

Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said: ‘Many of us have lost family, friends, colleagues and – at a time of year when we would normally be celebrating – a lot of people are understandably feeling anxious, frustrated and tired.

‘And now again we are back in the eye of the storm with a second wave of coronavirus sweeping Europe and, indeed, this country.’

But despite this huge surge in patients, the majority of the seven emergency Nightingale hospitals lay empty and have not yet started treating people with coronavirus in the second wave.

The facilities cost the Government a total of £220 million to build, but the Telegraph reports they have been left mostly empty as there are not enough staff to run them.

The London Nightingale Hospital, in the ExCel centre, was put on standby soon after it was built and only the Exeter Nightingale Hospital has been used since mid-November.

Some NHS trusts have however reportedly been told to ‘begin planning’ for the use of Nightingale hospitals.

Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said this was ‘extremely worrying’ and said ‘systems will again be stretched to the limit’.

It comes as the number of people who have tested positive for the virus in the UK rose by 41,385 yesterday, which is the biggest number of new infections the country has ever recorded since the start of the pandemic.

A further 357 people died with Covid-19 yesterday.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said: ‘This very high level of infection is of growing concern at a time when our hospitals are at their most vulnerable, with new admissions rising in many regions.’

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said some trusts are reporting up to three times the number of coronavirus patients than at the peak of the first wave.

‘This means hospitals and also ambulance services in Tier 4 areas and beyond are incredibly busy, compounded by increasing staff absences due to illness and the need to self-isolate,’ she said.

Paramedics in London said yesterday they are receiving almost 8,000 calls daily – not just for coronavirus but people needing help with other conditions – with Boxing Day being one of their ‘busiest ever days’.

The South Central Ambulance Service – which covers Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire – said it is ‘prewarning’ the military and fire service that paramedics may need help after an average increase of 10% in 999 calls over the Christmas period.

It added as well as this the service has seen a threefold increase in 111 calls, along with a 60% to 70% increase in absence rates with staff symptomatic or self-isolating.

But NHS England boss Sir Simon added there was a ‘chink of hope’ as the Oxford and AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is expected to be approved imminently by regulators.

‘We think that by late spring with vaccine supplies continuing to come on stream we will have been able to offer all vulnerable people across this country Covid vaccination,’ he said.

‘That perhaps provides the biggest chink of hope for the year ahead.’

Thousands of volunteers have been recruited to help distribute the vaccine once it is approved, with mass vaccination centres being set up at sports stadiums and conference venues.

A mass rollout is expected to start on January 4 with 10,000 medics delivering at least a million jabs a week by the middle of next month. Britain has already purchased 100 million doses of the Oxford injection.

The Sun also reported the Government will overhaul the priority list when the new vaccine is rolled out, with teachers and some other key workers expected to be added to the list next.

But scientists have projected the current vaccination target will have to be doubled to two million jabs a week to avoid a third wave of the virus.

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