Nightingales Still Empty

Matt Hancock marvels at his handiwork in London’s ExCel Centre

The Telegraph has a good story in today’s paper about the scandal of the empty Nightingales.

They were opened with great fanfare at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic – vast new facilities designed to save the NHS.

But as the UK is gripped by a second wave of Covid, the £220 million Nightingale hospitals lie empty, with medics warning that, even if they are needed, they do not have the staff to open them.

On Monday, the hospital in London’s Excel centre not only had no patients, it is understood to have been stripped, with beds and ventilators missing. Barriers protecting the facility had been removed, partition boards which separated beds were stacked outside and signs directing ambulances lay on the floor.

A single security guard watched the door, while nearby residents said that they had seen oxygen tanks, previously under 24 hour guard, being removed in November.

A contractor who helped supply and set up the facility told the Telegraph it was “disgusting” that it had been dismantled and a colleague, who was working at the site two weeks ago, said the facilities inside had been “ripped out”.

Meanwhile, the Nightingale at Birmingham’s NEC and the one in Sunderland are also empty but on standby, while Manchester’s is open for “non-Covid care”, with that at Harrogate being used as a “specialist diagnostics centre” and Bristol’s deployed for “local NHS services”.

Birmingham’s Nightingale can be opened in 72 hours if needed, it has been claimed. But Ian Sharp, the clinical lead for elective care at University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB), said that, with hospitals in the region full, “taking staff out of those organisations to open what is effectively a field hospital fills many of us with dread” and was therefore being treated as a “last resort”.

If it really is impossible to staff the Nightingales – and that’s the reason they’ve been largely unused – why didn’t the Department for Health anticipate that before committing £220 million to building them? Did Matt Hancock just commission them without a thought as to how they’d be staffed? One for the public inquiry.

Stop Press: Perhaps the reason the Nightingales haven’t opened is because the NHS doesn’t need the extra critical care capacity. See the below graph from the Spectator comparing ICU occupancy on Dec 20th with the the three-year average for December.