Royal Preston Hospital turns staff canteen into ward amid Omicron surge

ITV Granada Reports' correspondent Elaine Wilcox has spent the day at the Royal Preston Hospital.

A respiratory consultant has said the Covid vaccine is the "most effective weapon", as the Royal Preston Hospital transforms its staff canteen into a ward to deal with rising demand for beds.

It comes as the epicentre of the current Covid outbreak has moved from London to the North West, which now has the highest number of cases in the UK per 100,000 people.

Several NHS trusts across the region have declared critical incidents, with NHS staff absences at a record high.

The new temporary ward, inside the hospital's former staff canteen, is in addition to the 100-capacity Nightingale Surge Hub, to be built on the visitor car park.

Last week the government asked all of England's hospital trusts to find additional space for extra beds as patient numbers soar across the country.

Work commences on new Nightingale ward at Royal Preston Hospital. Credit: ITV News

The restaurant normally opens seven days a week, and provides hot meals, sandwiches and salads to staff. It closed on 4 January and will remain shut until further notice.

Work has begun to transform the canteen, whilst other spaces - including the hospital's physio gyms - have been earmarked as potential spaces for even more beds.

The hospital trust said staff still have access to a restaurant in the Education Centre at the rear of the hospital grounds, which serves hot food.

A Covid red ward at the Royal Preston Hospital. Credit: ITV News

A spokesperson for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals said: "The NHS across Lancashire and South Cumbria is preparing contingency plans in the event that Omicron cases continue to rise.

"These include a focus on safely discharging patients home as quickly as possible, increased levels of virtual wards and home oximetry to allow people to be treated within their own homes."

"If all other options are exhausted, we will have a Nightingale Surge Hub based on the Preston site which would service the wider region and provide up to 100 extra beds for recovering patients.

"We are also asking the public to help by using appropriate services to A&E and having their booster jabs."

Nightingale Hospitals were first set up during the start of the pandemic. Credit: PA

The NHS trust says the Omicron wave is having a huge impact on staff and the care they can provide.

NHS England figures show almost 4,000 NHS staff in the North West were absent, sick or isolating on Boxing Day.

By the following week, that total was over 7,000.

Professor Mohammed Munavvar, a Consultant Respiratory Physician, says they are treating four times as many Covid patients than there were before Christmas.

He says staff moral is "very low" and has urged everyone to get the coronavirus vaccine and booster as it is the "most effective weapon".

Professor Mohammed Munavvar on the rising cases of covid patients in Preston's main hospital.

The news comes as troops are deployed across the North West and London to support the NHS amid growing staff shortages due to Covid-19.

Some 150 armed forces personnel are being made available to the North West Ambulance Service.

They will be trained in driving ambulances, manual handling, kit familiarisation and basic life support, similar to the standards of the trust’s patient transport staff who have also been supporting the emergency service throughout the pandemic.

The announcement comes after Boris Johnson said this week ministers hoped to “ride out” the latest wave without the need for further restrictions in England.

Troops deployed in London's hospitals as covid cases surge. Credit: PA

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