Inside one of the NHS's Nightingale hubs: Pictures of makeshift ward created in a CAR PARK

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This is the first look inside one of the NHS’ new Nightingale surge hubs — which officials concede might never be used as the Omicron wave continues to recede.

The temporary site on the grounds of Royal Preston Hospital is one of eight commissioned across England last month, when the fourth wave looked as if it could threaten the health service. 

It has been assembled in the car park at the city’s biggest hospital in less than four weeks and can house roughly 100 Covid patients — but it is currently empty. 

Local NHS bosses have indicated that the new hub might never be used and medical unions have warned it could swallow up staff and pull resources away from other parts of the health service. 

Other make-shift structures are being built in London, Leeds, Solihull, Leicester, Stevenage, Ashford and Bristol for an undisclosed amount of money.

England’s original Nightingale hospitals, built in 2020, cost a total of £500million, which included running costs, stand-by costs and decommissioning costs. But they saw only light use before being mothballed.

The new, smaller sites will remain on standby to look after Covid sufferers who are not well enough to go home but need minimal supervision during their recovery.      

Kevin McGee, chief executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust which looks after the Royal Preston, previously said : ‘My hope is that we never have to use it.

‘We’re planning for it, and that’s quite right because we need to make sure that we put the appropriate capacity in place should we need it, but I’m hopeful we can manage within our core bed base.’

However, Dr Brian McGregor, of the British Medical Association (BMA), said staffing more beds would mean ‘falling further behind’ on routine work.

It comes as figures show the majority of Covid patients in English hospitals are not primarily being treated for the virus for the first time in the pandemic – thanks to the super-mild Omicron variant.

As few as a third of inpatients are mainly sick with the virus in parts of the country, with the rest primarily receiving care for a range of other conditions, such as a broken leg or heart disease.

The Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital, one of eight makeshift wards at hospitals across England, has 100 beds for patients from across the North West

The Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital, one of eight makeshift wards at hospitals across England, has 100 beds for patients from across the North West

The Nightingale facilities - manned by a mix of hospital consultants, nurses, and other clinical and non-clinical staff - are designed to take patients who, although not fit for discharge, need minimal support and monitoring while they recover. Pictured: The Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

The Nightingale facilities – manned by a mix of hospital consultants, nurses, and other clinical and non-clinical staff – are designed to take patients who, although not fit for discharge, need minimal support and monitoring while they recover. Pictured: The Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

Local NHS bosses have indicated that the new hub at Royal Preston Hospital (pictured) might never be used and medical unions have warned they could swallow up staff and pull resources away from other parts of the health service

Local NHS bosses have indicated that the new hub at Royal Preston Hospital (pictured) might never be used and medical unions have warned they could swallow up staff and pull resources away from other parts of the health service

Other structures are being built in Leeds, Solihull, Leicester, Stevenage, London, Ashford and Bristol for an undisclosed amount of money. Pictured: the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

Other structures are being built in Leeds, Solihull, Leicester, Stevenage, London, Ashford and Bristol for an undisclosed amount of money. Pictured: the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

England's seven original Nightingale hospitals built in 2020 cost the taxpayer more than £500million, which included running costs, stand-by costs and decommissioning costs. But they only treated a handful of patients. Pictured: the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

England’s seven original Nightingale hospitals built in 2020 cost the taxpayer more than £500million, which included running costs, stand-by costs and decommissioning costs. But they only treated a handful of patients. Pictured: the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

The new, much smaller, sites can only house 100 or so patients each and will remain on standby to look after Covid sufferers who are not well enough to go home but need minimal supervision during their recovery. Pictured: the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

The new, much smaller, sites can only house 100 or so patients each and will remain on standby to look after Covid sufferers who are not well enough to go home but need minimal supervision during their recovery. Pictured: the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

A glimpse of the site from the outside. The makeshift facility is built in one of the hospital's car parks

A glimpse of the site from the outside. The makeshift facility is built in one of the hospital’s car parks

Criticising the new surge hubs earlier this month, Dr McGregor, from the BMA’s Yorkshire Regional Council, told the BBC: ‘Each bed takes two to three staff to run it 24/7.

‘The workforce that can work is working and how we cover staffing of these units is going to be the most important part, because you’re going to be taking staff away from other pathways and other workload.

‘So we’re going to find ourselves falling further behind on our routine work.’

The comments come amid growing acceptance that Covid will not put the NHS under significant pressure this winter. 

Latest figures show there were 1,651 new Covid patients admitted to English hospitals on January 23, which was down 13 per cent on the previous week. UK-wide admissions have fallen for nearly two weeks straight.  

That’s compared to nearly 4,000 at the peak of the second wave this time last year.

Latest figures show there were 1,651 new Covid patients admitted to English hospitals on January 23, which was down 13 per cent on the previous week. UK-wide admissions have fallen for nearly two weeks straight. Pictured: the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

Latest figures show there were 1,651 new Covid patients admitted to English hospitals on January 23, which was down 13 per cent on the previous week. UK-wide admissions have fallen for nearly two weeks straight. Pictured: the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

Criticising the new surge hubs earlier this month, Dr McGregor, from the BMA's Yorkshire Regional Council, told the BBC: 'Each bed takes two to three staff to run it 24/7. 'The workforce that can work is working and how we cover staffing of these units is going to be the most important part, because you're going to be taking staff away from other pathways and other workload. 'So we're going to find ourselves falling further behind on our routine work.' Pictured: staff at the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

Criticising the new surge hubs earlier this month, Dr McGregor, from the BMA’s Yorkshire Regional Council, told the BBC: ‘Each bed takes two to three staff to run it 24/7. ‘The workforce that can work is working and how we cover staffing of these units is going to be the most important part, because you’re going to be taking staff away from other pathways and other workload. ‘So we’re going to find ourselves falling further behind on our routine work.’ Pictured: staff at the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

Pictured: staff at the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

Pictured: staff at the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital 

Pictured: staff at the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

Pictured: staff at the Nightingale Surge Hub at Royal Preston Hospital

NHS England data shows the percentage of Covid patients in hospitals in England's seven regions who are not primarily being treated for the virus (left), while the graphs (right) show how this rate has changed over time.  The North East had the highest proportion of patients (57.4 per cent) who are mainly being treated for other ailments

NHS England data shows the percentage of Covid patients in hospitals in England’s seven regions who are not primarily being treated for the virus (left), while the graphs (right) show how this rate has changed over time.  The North East had the highest proportion of patients (57.4 per cent) who are mainly being treated for other ailments

NHS England data shows the majority of Covid patients in English hospitals are not primarily being treated for the virus for the first time in the pandemic. The share of primary Covid patients has plummeted since the emergence of the super-mild Omicron variant in late November, when three-quarters of inpatients were mainly ill with the disease

NHS England data shows the majority of Covid patients in English hospitals are not primarily being treated for the virus for the first time in the pandemic. The share of primary Covid patients has plummeted since the emergence of the super-mild Omicron variant in late November, when three-quarters of inpatients were mainly ill with the disease

NHS England data shows there were 13,023 Covid patients in hospital on Tuesday (January 25), of which only 6,256 were primarily there for the virus, or 48 per cent

NHS England data shows there were 13,023 Covid patients in hospital on Tuesday (January 25), of which only 6,256 were primarily there for the virus, or 48 per cent

Meanwhile, the mild – but highly infectious – Omicron variant is causing more ‘incidental’ hospital cases.  

There were 13,023 Covid patients in hospital on January 25, according to the latest NHS England figures, of which only 6,256 were primarily there for the virus (48 per cent). 

This share has plummeted since the emergence of the super-mild Omicron variant in late November, when three-quarters of inpatients were mainly ill with the disease.  

Just three of England’s seven NHS regions have more primary Covid patients than incidentals — the  North West (57 per cent), South East (55 per cent) and the North East and Yorkshire (54 per cent).  

Little over a third of inpatients are primary Covid in London (36 per cent) and the East of England (38 per cent), while in the Midlands and the South West the proportion is 46 and 49 per cent, respectively. 

Hospital patients who test positive for Covid need to be isolated from those who do not have the virus, regardless of whether they are in hospital primarily for Covid or not.

Non-primary Covid patients include those who catch Covid while in hospital for a different illness and those who are admitted for another reason and happen to be incubating the virus as they arrive.

Britain will dish out Pfizer’s ‘ground-breaking’ antiviral Covid pill within a fortnight, health chiefs reveal 

Britain’s Covid anti-viral arsenal will get another weapon within a fortnight, officials revealed today.

Pfizer’s drug Paxlovid, shown to cut the risk of being hospitalised or dying from the virus by nearly 90 per cent, will be dished out from February 10.

Around 1.3million vulnerable Britons – including immunocompromised people, HIV and cancer patients and transplant recipients – will be eligible to get the pill if they test positive.

The most vulnerable have already been invited for a fourth Covid jab, but the vaccine is less effective at stopping them from becoming severely unwell.

Ministers have bought 2.75million courses of the ‘ground-breaking’ pill, which works best when taken within five days of symptoms starting.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘Our pharmaceutical defences are crucial as we learn to live with Covid and the UK is leading the way, especially when it comes to the use of cutting-edge antivirals.’

Dishing out the drug is an ‘important milestone’ and may mean ‘thousands of lives could be saved’, he added.

More than 10,000 courses of molnupiravir, the first Covid antiviral secured in the UK, and monoclonal antibody treatment sotrovimab, have already been administered.

The use of pharmaceuticals is a key part of the Government’s plans on learning to live with the virus, along with the vaccine rollout which has seen eight in 10 over-12s in the UK double-jabbed. 

Pfizer’s drug is designed to block an enzyme the coronavirus needs in order to multiply.

This keeps virus levels low in the body and reduces the severity of disease.

While the commercial agreement between Pfizer and the UK is confidential, health chiefs in America are reported to have paid the equivalent of £390 for each of the 10million courses it ordered.

If applied to the UK, it would mean No10 has spent in the region of £1billion to buy supplies.

The drugmaker’s clinical trial of 2,200 adults showed Paxlovid cut the risk of those most at-risk from the virus being hospitalised or dying by 89 per cent.

The results, published in early November, showed just 0.7 per cent of patients who received Paxlovid were hospitalised, while 6.5 per cent of those who received a placebo pill were admitted to hospital or died.

No deaths were recorded among those who took Paxlovid.

The UK’s medicines watchdog subsequently approved the drug on New Year’s Eve.

It found Paxlovid was safe and effective at reducing the risks of being admitted to hospital and death among vulnerable patients with mild to moderate infection.

At-risk patients who test positive will be able to access Paxlovid through a phone call appointment with a member of the NHS Covid medicines team, if doctors believe it is the most appropriate treatment.

Those prescribed the drug will either have someone collect it for them or have it delivered to their home.

Further details on securing the drug will be revealed by the Department of Health in the coming days.

Antiviral molupiravir, which works in the same way as Paxlovid, is already being dished out through the Oxford University PANORAMIC study.

Adults with an underlying health condition and all over–50s can access molupiravir, as long as they have tested positive and Covid symptoms that started in the previous five days.

Until Paxlovid — which may also be distributed through the study — is available, Mr Javid urged vulnerable patients who test positive to sign up for the PANORAMIC trial.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director at NHS England, said rolling out the ‘cutting-edge’ drug will put the country in the ‘best position to save thousands of lives’.

He added: ‘While it will still be up to clinicians to decide on a case-by-case basis whether this treatment, or indeed other Covid medicines, is the best choice for their patients, it is an important step in our fight back against Covid.’

The UK has procured more antivirals per head than any other country in Europe, with more than 4.98million courses ordered so far, according to the Department of Health.

Eddie Gray, chair of the antivirals taskforce, said: ‘The UK has secured millions of doses of antivirals for NHS patients, so we can keep the most vulnerable safe from the virus.

‘This is a promising development in deployment of these treatments. The Taskforce will continue our work to identify the world’s best antiviral treatments for UK patients.’

In addition to antivirals, monoclonal antibody treatment sotrovimab is also used to treat Covid in at-risk groups. It is given through an IV infusion at a hospital.

This drug works by binding to the spike protein on the outside of the virus, preventing it entering the body’s cells and replicating. 

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