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The NHS is setting up new Nightingale surge hubs at hospitals across the country as part of preparations for a potential wave of Omicron admissions.
Temporary structures capable of housing around 100 patients will be erected in the grounds of eight hospitals across the country, with work starting as early as this week.
These Nightingale hubs will improve NHS resilience if the record number of COVID-19 infections leads to a surge in admissions and outstrips existing capacity.
Placing the new Nightingale facilities in hospital grounds will make it easier to flex staff and equipment if there is a surge in admissions, providing access to diagnostics and emergency care if required.
NHS trusts have also been asked to identify areas such as gyms and education centres that can be converted to accommodate patients and more Nightingale sites could be added to create up to 4,000 “super surge” beds across the country.
The move comes as hospitals are using hotels, hospices and care homes to safely discharge as many people who are medically fit to leave as possible.
NHS National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis said: “Given the high level of COVID-19 infections and increasing hospital admissions, the NHS is now on a war footing.
“We do not yet know exactly how many of those who catch the virus will need hospital treatment, but given the number of infections we cannot wait to find out before we act and so work is beginning from today to ensure these facilities are in place.
“We hoped never to have to use the original Nightingales and I hope we never to have to use these new hubs.
“Staff across the health service are working around the clock to provide the best possible care to patients and rollout the NHS COVID vaccination programme.
“The public can play their part by following the guidance to limit the spread of infection and by getting boosted now.
“The science is clear. Two doses of vaccine do not provide enough protection against Omicron so if you have not yet had a life-saving booster do not delay any longer”.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid said: “We’ve backed the NHS at every turn throughout this pandemic to make sure it provides the care and treatment people need. I want to thank the tireless efforts of our health workers on the frontline who are delivering for patients every day.
“We hope the Nightingale surge hubs at hospitals will not have to be used but it is absolutely right that we prepare for all scenarios and increase capacity”.
NHS staff have been working over Christmas on the plans to create 4,000 “super surge” beds across the health service. By comparison, a large district hospital might typically have around 500 beds.
If hospitals need to activate the new beds after exhausting every other option, equipment previously used for the original Nightingale hospitals will be rapidly distributed to them.
The new Nightingale facilities would take patients who, although not fit for discharge, need minimal support and monitoring while they recover from illness, freeing up regular ward beds to provide care for those with more intensive needs.
Patients may include those recovering from COVID-19 who are no longer infectious and do not need intensive oxygen therapy.
The units would be led by hospital consultants and nurses, but with other clinical and non-clinical staff brought in with rapid training to be able to perform routine checks and other tasks.
The Nightingale surge facilities are the latest in a series of actions taken by NHS leaders in the last couple of weeks in response to the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant and the prospect of another major wave of people needing hospital treatment for the virus.
Local NHS teams are already working closely with councils, social care and hospices to support as many people as possible to be discharged safely from hospital, either to other local facilities or with support to recover in their own home.
A national deal with Hospice UK will see up to 4,800 people a day who need ongoing monitoring, but don’t need to be in hospital, be supported either in a hospice bed or through Hospice@Home teams.
Local leaders have also been told to consider using hotels and care hubs in care homes to provide places for people to recover before going home, rather than in hospital wards.
The use of virtual wards, where patients get monitoring technology and regular check-ins from clinicians to allow them to return home earlier safely are also being ramped up by hospital teams, while GPs also have access to up to 250,000 pulse oximeters so that COVID-19 positive patients can monitor their own blood oxygen levels at home ensuring only those who need to be are admitted to hospital.
The first eight of the Nightingale surge hubs will be at the following hospitals:
- North West – Royal Preston
- North East and Yorkshire – Leeds, St James’ site
- Midlands – Solihull Hospital and Leicester General Hospital
- East of England – Lister Hospital, Stevenage
- London – St George’s
- South East – William Harvey Hospital, Ashford
- South West – North Bristol