NHS to open Covid Nightingale ‘surge centres’ to deal with Omicron wave

Work is set to begin this week on eight centres, each with a capacity of 100 patients

A nurse puts on protective gear in a ward for Covid-19 patients at King's College Hospital, in south-east London. PA
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Britain's National Health Service is setting up new Nightingale “surge centres” at hospitals across England as it prepares for a possible wave of Omicron hospital admissions.

Work on a total of eight centres, each with a capacity of about 100 patients, is set to begin as early as this week, NHS England said.

More sites could also be identified to add another 4,000 “super surge” beds.

Hospitals are using hotels, hospices and care homes to safely discharge as many people who are medically fit as possible, freeing up beds for those who need them most.

“Given the high level of Covid-19 infections and increasing hospital admissions, the NHS is now on a war footing," said the NHS national medical director, Prof Stephen Powis.

“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.”

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The new Nightingale facilities, operated by a mix of hospital consultants, nurses, and other clinical and non-clinical staff, are designed to take patients who need minimal support and monitoring while they recover from illness.

NHS Trusts have also been given the task of identifying places, including gyms and education centres, which could be converted to accommodate up to 4,000 “super surge” beds – about four times the number at a typical large district hospital.

The centres will be set up at the Royal Preston Hospital, St James’ University Hospital in Leeds, Lister Hospital in Stevenage, St George’s Hospital in London, The William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent, North Bristol Hospital, and Solihull Hospital, University Hospitals Birmingham and University Hospitals Leicester.

“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,” said Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

An NHS national deal with Hospice UK will also see up to 4,800 people a day who need ongoing monitoring, but do not need to be in hospital, receive support in a hospice bed or through Hospice@Home teams.

The NHS is also increasing the use of online wards, where patients have monitoring technology and regular check-ins with clinicians.

GPs also have access to up to 250,000 pulse oximeters – devices that can read blood-oxygen levels by scanning a finger tip – so that Covid-19 positive patients can monitor their own levels at home.

“Building on lessons learnt from earlier in the pandemic, trusts are identifying extra capacity on existing hospital sites that could be turned into super-surge capacity should it be required," said Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, the membership organisation for NHS trusts in England.

“Trust leaders hope this back-up insurance policy will never be needed, as with the original Nightingales. But it must be the right ‘no regrets later’ move to make these preparations now.

“Given the other pressures on the NHS and the current level of staff absences, staffing this capacity would be a major challenge. But colocation on existing hospital sites maximises the NHS’s ability to meet that challenge.

“We also need to recognise that this will add further stretch to an already hard-pressed NHS.”

Updated: December 30, 2021, 12:01 AM