The NHS has announced the emergency Nightingale hospitals built in the first Covid-19 wave to cope with anticipated pressures on the health service are to close from next month.
Seven of the temporary hospitals were hastily constructed in England, starting last April with a 4,000-bed facility at London’s ExCeL centre.
However, the showpiece east London site only treated 54 patients in the first wave and was hamstrung by hospitals’ reluctance to release doctors and nurses to work there. It reopened in January and was used to treat non-coronavirus patients to free up beds for a surge in Covid cases and other serious illnesses.
North Yorkshire’s 500-bed Nightingale hospital at Harrogate convention centre, opened by Captain Sir Tom Moore last April, will close without treating a single patient and will operate as a testing centre until then.
From April, the patient care provided in the Nightingale hospitals will transition back to local NHS services. Vaccination will continue at London and Sunderland to support the NHS programme.
An NHS spokesperson said: “Since the very early days of the pandemic the Nightingale hospitals have been on hand as the ultimate insurance policy in case existing hospital capacity was overwhelmed but, as we have learned more about coronavirus, and how to successfully treat Covid, existing hospitals have adapted to significantly surge critical care capacity and even in the winter wave – which saw more than 100,000 patients with the virus admitted in a single month – there were beds available across the country.
“Thank you to the many NHS staff and partners who worked so hard to set the Nightingales up so swiftly, and of course the public who followed the guidance on controlling the spread of the virus and helped to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed.”
Exeter’s Nightingale hospital began admitting patients in November when cases in south-west England exceeded the first wave of the pandemic. There were also sites at the Manchester Central convention complex and Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre.
Another was set up in Belfast, while Scotland and Wales had their own temporary hospitals.
Last month doctors and NHS bosses who ran the London Nightingale field hospital defended its creation but admitted it lacked the full range of medical expertise needed to treat Covid-19.
In a paper in the medical journal Intensive Care Medicine, they wrote: “The operating model as originally conceived was based on previous (influenza) pandemics. Subsequent clinical experience highlights that the clinical syndrome of Covid-19 and the spectrum and duration of multiorgan support requires comprehensive critical care capacity. Future planning should account for this.”