Matt Hancock: Nightingale hospitals are on 'standby'
Hospitals across the country are running out of oxygen and could be forced to house coronavirus patients in tents according to experts. Hospitals are now seeing more cases than during the peak of the first wave, putting the overburdened NHS under even greater strain. But is the Nightingale hospital in East London open to patients as hospital admissions in Essex surge to desperate levels?
NHS hospitals across the country are struggling to manage amid growing demands on the health service due to the rising rates of coronavirus.
There are officially more Covid-19 patients in hospitals in England than there were during the peak of the first wave according to new figures.
NHS England data has revealed that there were 21,286 patients in its hospitals as of 4.36pm on Tuesday – up from the spring high of 18,974 on April 12.
The news came as the UK recorded its highest increase in Covid cases with 53,135 testing positive for the virus, while 414 people have died within 28 days of a positive test.
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A “major incident” has now been declared in Essex as surging case numbers threaten to overwhelm the health service.
The announcement was revealed in response to a “significant growing demand” on hospitals across the region.
The move is intended to help local leaders seek further Government assistance according to the Essex Resilience Forum (ERF), a body made up of NHS, emergency service and local authority members.
The ERF added cases are particularly high in mid and south Essex, with infections expected to rise in the coming days.
The latest government figures show there were 549 Covid patients at Southend, Basildon and Broomfield University hospitals, run by the Mid and South Essex NHS Trust, which is the highest total since the start of the pandemic.
Anthony McKeever, from the Mid and South Essex Health and Care Partnership, said officials were endeavouring to “limit the impact on the NHS and the wider health system”.
He said: “This involves using critical care capacity elsewhere in Essex and the Eastern region and identifying additional locations and capacity to assist with the discharging of patients to reduce pressure on hospitals.”
Essex Police Chief Constable BJ Harrington said: “Declaring a major incident enables us to seek further support from the government to address the severe pressures which the health system is under because of COVID-19.
“The people of Essex have been magnificent and are only dialling 999 or attending A&E in an emergency – we need this to continue because this will help protect the very limited capacity available at our hospitals.”
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But this week concerns spiked when reports emerged claiming the closest Nightingale hospital to Essex, located in East London, had been stripped of some equipment.
The Nightingale Hospital in East London’s ExCeL exhibition centre was built in nine days.
The exhibition centre, which officially opened on April 3, was fitted out with the framework for around 80 wards, each with 42 beds.
The Nightingale sites opened across England during 2020 including in Manchester, Bristol, Sunderland, Harrogate, Exeter, Birmingham and London – at a cost of £220 million.
This week reports emerged claiming items including bed and ventilators which were initially located at the ExCel Centre in London are no longer there.
A spokesperson for NHS England confirmed the site remains on standby.
The NHS England spokesperson 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.”
However, concerns have been raised about the already-stretched NHS’s ability to staff the Nightingale facilities.
Dr Nick Scriven, the former 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.
“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.”
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth criticised the Government for failing to staff the hospital.
He tweeted: “Health & care services suffered years of Tory underfunding, bed reductions, understaffing, public health cuts, wasteful privatisation & tendering, social care savaged.
“Now Boris dithers again while NHS in crisis, beds filling up, oxygen supplies under pressure & staff exhausted.
“And it seems Nightingales are quietly being dismantled because there isn’t enough staff to keep them open safely.
“These were opened at great expense and fanfare.
“But the reality is years of Tory failures to invest in training and staffing has left the NHS short of staff needed.”
However, the NHS has maintained it was the right decision to build these hospitals.
Chris Hopson of NHS Providers said the NHS would use “every ounce” of existing capacity it could muster before the Nightingales were used routinely.
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