Exclusive: London’s Nightingale Hospital to reopen next week at just 1.5 per cent capacity

The Nightingale Hospital at London’s Excel Centre is due to reopen next week at an estimated 1.5 per cent of its original capacity, as the NHS scrambles to find enough staff to treat patients.

The emergency hospital has been “reactivated” to provide non-Covid related care for around 60 patients, senior sources close to the Nightingale told City A.M.

The figure represents around 1.5 per cent of the original 4,000 beds available at the hospital in March.

A senior NHS official told City A.M. the major challenge surrounding capacity “will be staffing it given the severe pressures elsewhere across the London NHS hospitals”.

Nick Scriven, president of the Society of Acute Medicine, said the figure “feels like a drop in the vast ocean of what’s needed and you could question the economics of staffing and equipping it for so few beds”.

The Nightingale hospitals, which are spread across seven sites around the country, cost an estimated £200m.

Though NHS Improvement refused to provide a breakdown of costs for each individual hospital, the site at London’s Excel Centre was originally kitted out to host the largest number of beds.

A spokesperson for NHS England said “the NHS London region were asked to ensure the Nightingale was reactivated and ready to admit patients should it be needed, and that process is underway.”

They added that the hospital “will operate in the same way as the NHS Nightingale Manchester with staff drawn from across the health service in London”.

Emails seen by the Independent last week showed the NHS has sent out a call to arms to the military and partners in the voluntary sector in a bid to plug staff shortages.

It comes as hospitals in London and the southeast prepare to transfer patients to the West Country as the NHS buckles under the weight of a new coronavirus mutation spreading across the country.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said hospitals in the south-west and Midlands “where the pressure is slightly less” will be readied for surge capacity if hospital beds fill up in London.

Coronavirus cases in the UK have tipped beyond the 50,000 mark everyday over the past seven days, with the number of patients in hospital now outweighing figures seen in the peak of the first wave. 

Fourteen intensive care units in the UK were at least 95 per cent full in the week after Christmas, including five in London, according to the Times.

University College London Hospital (UCLH) in Euston last week warned it is now on track to become a Covid-only hospital as it scrambles to convert operating theatres, surgical recovery areas and stroke wards into intensive care units for coronavirus patients.

NHS England medical director Stephen Powis has previously described the seven Nightingale Hospital facilities as the UK’s “last resort”. 

While some Nightingale hospitals outside the capital have been treating patients for several months, the site in east London has drawn criticism for lying dormant during the pandemic.

The hospital was erected in less than two weeks in March, amid mounting fears the capital’s hospitals could be overwhelmed by spiralling coronavirus admissions.

But the east London site shuttered just six weeks later having treated a mere 57 patients during the first wave.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month parked plans to convert the site at London’s Excel centre into a vaccination hub following a sharp spike in Covid cases.

A spokesman for the NHS said: “Hospitals in London are coming under significant pressure from high Covid-19 infection rates and while staff are going the extra mile and the NHS in London is opening more beds in NHS hospitals across the capital to care for the most unwell patients, it is crucial that people do everything they can to reduce transmission of the virus.”