Nightingale hospitals across England are being “primed” for use as needed as the number of Covid patients increases.
The NHS in London has been asked to ensure that the Excel center site is “reactivated and ready to accept patients” as hospitals in the capital struggle.
Other Nightingale hospital locations across England include Manchester, Bristol, Sunderland, Harrogate, Exeter and Birmingham.
A spokesman for the NHS said: “Hospitals in London are under considerable pressure due to the high rates of Covid-19 infection. As staff go the extra mile and the NHS in London opens more beds in NHS hospitals across the capital to cater to the most unwell patients, it is critical that people do whatever they can to help spread the virus to decrease.
“In anticipation of increasing pressure from the spread of the new infection, the NHS London has been asked to ensure the London Nightingale is reactivated and ready to admit patients as needed, and this process is ongoing.”
The Exeter site received its first Covid patients in November when it began accepting those transferred from the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, which was described as “very busy”.
The Nightingale hospitals in Manchester, Bristol and Harrogate are currently used for non-Covid patients, the spokesman said.
He added, “The number of inpatients in Covid is growing sharply so the nightingales that remain are ready to re-admit patients if needed. This is in line with best clinical practice developing during the first and second waves of coronavirus has been.”
Stephen Powis, Medical Director of NHS England, has called the Nightingale Hospitals “our insurance policy, our last resort there”.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, he said, “A few weeks ago we asked all Nightingale hospitals to be ready to admit patients if necessary.
“Some of them are already doing this, for example in Manchester, where they are stepping down, treating Covid patients in Exeter and in other places for example diagnostics.
“Our first steps in addressing the additional requirements for the NHS are to expand capacity in existing hospitals – this is the best way to deploy our staff.”
Concerns have been raised about the ability of the already overloaded health service to occupy Nightingale facilities.
Dr. Nick Scriven, past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said, “It is not just the case to use Nightingale Hospital as there is simply no staff to operate it as originally intended (mini intensive care units). ”