Belfast City Hospital’s tower block is to be designated as Northern Ireland’s first Nightingale hospital, ahead of the anticipated surge of coronavirus patients.
A team will be drawn from across Northern Ireland to staff the 230-bed facility.
Critical care capacity will also be increased at Altnagelvin and the Ulster Hospital as part of the phased surge plans.
According to the Depatrment of Health, establishing the Nightingale facility will require “significant temporary reconfiguration of existing critical care provision” across the hospital network.
Infrastructure alterations will be made within the tower block, while non-Covid patients currently being treated there will have to be moved.
Assessment is said to be ongoing into the potential of the Eikon Centre at Balmoral Park – the site of the former Maze prison – to host a second Nightingale facility to further increase bed capacity later in the year, in preparation for any further wave of the coronavirus.
The Department of Health says the number of available ventilators in Northern Ireland is now 165 and further orders are in place.
Health Minister Robin Swann said it was “prudent” to plan for a scenario beyond the reasonable worst case.
“That is what we are doing,” he said.
“I fully recognise the challenges these emergency arrangements will present for staff, with new ways of working and, in many cases, a new workplace location.
“I am determined that we will do everything possible to support them and their colleagues across the HSC as they take on the many challenges that Covid-19 brings.
“We owe them all a debt that can never be repaid. I also give a commitment that trade unions will be kept informed as the plan is rolled out.”
Watch our report here:
Coronavirus: Everything you need to know