Nightingale hub to be built in Leeds in preparation for possible Omicron wave

A new Nightingale hub will be built in Leeds as part of preparations for a potential wave of Omicron admissions.

Temporary structures capable of housing around 100 patients will be put up in the grounds of eight hospitals across the country, with work starting as early as this week. This includes the St James' site in the city.

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, University Hospitals Birmingham and University Hospitals Leicester

  • East of England – Lister Hospital, Stevenage

  • London – St George’s

  • South East – William Harvey Hospital, Ashford

  • South West – North Bristol

It is hoped that the Nightingale hubs will improve NHS resilience if the record number of Covid infections leads to a surge in admissions and outstrips existing capacity.

Nightingale Surge Hubs

How will the Nightingale surge hubs work?

The new 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 from illness.

NHS Trusts have also been tasked with identifying places, such as gyms and education centres along with other sites, which could be converted to accommodate up to 4,000 "super surge" – roughly four times the number at a typical large district hospital.

The government has insisted the Nightingale hospitals built during the first wave of Covid in March 2020 were a success story of the pandemic - but they were at the time criticised with concerns they stood empty and did not have enough staff.

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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."

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."

Health Secretary Sajid Javid. Credit: PA Images

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. 

Meanwhile, the BMA is asking for more staffing clarity on the new facilities.

Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said:

“The Government is once again putting plans into place to attempt to cope with what could be a significant rise in the numbers of patients needing hospital care. However, as with the previous Nightingale plans, there is no real clarity on where the staff will come from to work in these eight sites.

"Even though they are on existing hospital premises, it is not clear how many doctors and other healthcare staff will be needed. There are already over 100,000 staff vacancies in the NHS and we don’t simply have a bank of spare doctors waiting to take up jobs. To compound the problem, thousands of healthcare workers are currently infected with Covid-19 and having to isolate.

"Just before Christmas, over 18,000 staff in acute trusts in England were off either with Covid-19 or because they are self-isolating. This equates to 136 covid-related absences and 465 total off sick for every acute hospital trust in England. That figure is expected to rise when new data is published later this week.

“The Government needs to be absolutely clear about how these Nightingale sites will operate, where the staff might come from and what the impact could be on other healthcare services if doctors and other healthcare professionals are to be diverted from providing non-Covid care and services.    

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 working 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.

What's the Covid situation across the UK?

The move comes as the UK reached record numbers of daily reported Covid cases once again on Wednesday, as 183,037 new coronavirus cases were recorded.

The total includes reported figures for Northern Ireland covering a five-day period, which although inflated the figure, it would still have been a record with England and Scotland seeing record high cases in the 24 hours to 9am on Wednesday.