What does future hold for Nightingale Hospital at ExCeL?

Health secretary Matt Hancock at the opening of the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the ExCeL in April. Picture: Stefan...

Health secretary Matt Hancock at the opening of the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the ExCeL in April. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire - Credit: PA

There are doubts about whether the Nightingale Hospital at the ExCeL centre will be needed again for Covid patients, and keeping in a “state of readiness” is costing the Barts Health NHS trust £1.2million a month.

In April, the ExCeL in Custom House was converted into a hospital with 4,000 intensive care beds. But only 200 patients were treated at either that or the Nightingale hospital in Manchester. Several more in other parts of the country were never used.

The Nightingale Hospital London is run by Barts trust, which also runs Whipps Cross, the Royal London and St Bartholomew’s hospitals.

With a second wave of the virus emerging, it raises questions about whether it could be needed again.

READ MORE: Town halls team up with NHS Test and TraceThere were 532 deaths in the UK linked to Covid on November 10 – 21 of those were in London.

A nurse who worked at the London Nightingale during the first wave has said she and other colleagues haven’t yet been asked to return. She normally works in central London.

She said: “I haven’t heard a sausage. I set up a WhatsApp group to keep in touch with people I worked with at the Nightingale. Now and then people message to ask if anyone has heard anything, and the answer will be ‘no’.

“But when we were stood down we were asked if we would work there again. I said yes.”

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An NHS England spokesperson said the London Nightingale is “on standby ready to quickly stand up and provide additional capacity to support local services if necessary.” They did not comment further.

Manchester’s Nightingale hospital has reopened for Covid patients. Other Nightingales in Exeter and Harrogate are being used as centres for diagnosing patients with cancer and other diseases.

There is also concern that reopening London’s Nightingale would mean diverting staff from existing hospitals. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, told The Sunday Times: “Clearly what you want to do is carry on treating patients in existing hospitals for as long as you possibly can until all of the existing capacity is used and then you flip to your insurance policy of using Nightingales.”

READ MORE: Nightingale Hospital volunteer creates beer to raise money for Barts CharityThe nurse explained that fewer Covid patients with severe symptoms are being treated with ventilators, meaning they do not need intensive care facilities such as those at the Nightingale.

She said: “When we first had patients whose oxygen saturation was low, they were put on a ventilator. But it’s very hard to get people off a ventilator. After you come off one you have to put physical effort into breathing.”

She explained that patients are now more likely to be given a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure therapy), a machine linked to a face mask that assists with breathing.

“So we may not need the Nightingale as an intensive care centre,” she said. “The Royal London Hospital also has a lot more intensive care capacity than they used to.

“There’s a chance they might re-purpose it [the Nightingale] for things like screenings and scans – keep it as a clean space. That’s just an idea I have in my head.

“The difficult thing is it’s hard to plan in the health service because there’s always a four-week lag between people contracting the virus and getting to the point where they need hospital treatment.”