What is the situation with Wales' £166m field hospitals?

Field hospitals
Field Hospitals have been handed back but they may be needed over winter months. Credit: Abigail Harris

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic there were real concerns about whether the NHS would be overwhelmed because of the huge demand across the country for services.

The Welsh Government announced comprehensive packages of support and dozens of field hospitals were established in the country at a cost of £166m.

Within eight weeks, the hospitals doubled the normal NHS capacity by 6,000 beds with 17 new field hospitals.

The Welsh Rugby Union's indoor training facility was turned in to a 290 bed field hospital. Credit: ITV Wales.

With coronavirus cases on the rise again in Wales, and warnings the NHS is at risk of being put under real strain within a month, are the field hospitals ready to be used if hospital admissions continue to increase?

Field hospitals were set up in March and April in the following health boards:

Betsi Cadwaladr UHB

  • Venue Cymru in Llandudno, Bangor University's Canolfan Brailsford sport and leisure centre and Deeside Leisure Centre.

Cardiff and Vale UHB

  • Dragon's Heart Hospital at the Principality Stadium

Swansea Bay UHB

  • Llandarcy Academy of Sport and Swansea Bay Studios

Hywel Dda UHB

  • Bluestone in Pembrokeshire, leisure centres in Cardigan, Carmarthen, Llanelli and Plas Crug and two at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli

Aneurin Bevan

  • Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran was opened early to hold more beds.

Cwm Taf Morgannwg

  • The Welsh Rugby Union training facility at The Vale Resort and Rhondda Cynon Taf council's Ty Trevithick offices in Abercynon.

Why were the beds not used?

Mr Gething praised the population for their help in ensuring that the field hospitals were largely unused during the early months of the pandemic.

In a statement published on the Welsh Government website, he said that this was "primarily because of the support from the public".

Health minister Vaughan Gething said that it was primarily because of the work of the public the field hospitals were largely unused. Credit: PA

"In the spring, 19 field hospitals were established around Wales in a matter of weeks to provide thousands of additional beds for a significant predicted increase in hospital admissions for patients suffering from the virus," he said.

"Thousands of beds were also identified across existing NHS and independent hospital sites in the event of a reasonable worst case scenario.

"In total provision was made for around 10,000 additional beds, a testament to the capability of NHS, Local Authority, independent sector, private sector and military partners who worked round the clock to deliver for the people of Wales.

"Thankfully, the great majority of the additional beds were not needed at that time."

What else has the health minister and other professionals said?

At a Welsh Government press conference on Wednesday, NHS Wales Chief Dr Andrew Goodall stated that it could be a matter of weeks until the health service was "under pressure" in the country.

He said that the critical care in Wales' hospitals is currently operating at full capacity. It came two weeks after health minister Vaughan Gething announced that health boards in the country planned to retain over 5000 additional beds for the rest of 2020 and in to next year.

This was echoed by Vaughan Gething who said that he believed there would be a demand for the field hospitals in the coming months.

"Based on data modelling and ongoing learning from the first peak, health boards were asked to retain 5000 beds across Wales to enable safe management of a potential realistic worst case scenario caused by a spike in emergency admissions to hospital beds," Mr Gething continued.

"We will continue to monitor the situation and a further review will be undertaken following the submission of health board plans later in the year to consider any requirement for further capacity plans in 2021/22."

Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board announced its field hospital Ysbyty'r Seren will begin to admit its first patients from 16 October. The hospital will be taking patients from three hospitals, Royal Glamorgan Hospital, Prince Charles Hospital and Princess of Wales Hospital "to create capacity in our acute settings for our patients needing more specialist care", the health board said.

Where will the field hospitals be kept on standby?

Earlier this week ITV Wales published a list of where the standby beds would be during the winter months.

  • Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. Field hospital capacity at Venue Cymru inLlandudno; Ysbyty Enfys Deeside at the Deeside Leisure Centre; and the BrailsfordCentre at Bangor University. Some beds from existing NHS hospital sites. Total: 1,198 additional beds.

  • Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board. Field hospital capacity at Harman Becker unit at the Bridgend Industrial Estate. Some beds from existing NHS hospital sites. Total: 718 beds.

  • Hywel Dda University Health Board. Field hospital capacity at ‘y Barn’ at Parc y Scarlets, the Selwyn Samuel Centre in Llanelli, Bluestone in Pembrokeshire and Aberystwyth and Cardigan Leisure Centres. Some beds from existing NHS hospital sites. Total: 613 beds.

  • Swansea Bay University Health Board. Field hospital capacity at the Bay Studios in Swansea. Total: 818 beds if required.

  • Aneurin Bevan University Health Board. New capacity at Grange University Hospital opening four months early in November. Some beds from existing NHS sites. Total: 942 extra beds.

  • Cardiff and Vale University Health Board. New modular facility, on the University Hospital of Wales site in Cardiff. Some beds in existing NHS sites. Total: 800 additional beds.

  • Powys teaching Health Board. Additional capacity within its existing hospital sites and has agreement with neighbouring health boards and trusts. Total: 210 extra beds.

What are the figures saying?

On Wednesday Wales recorded its highest ever number of new cases for a day, with 946 reported by Public Health Wales.

On Thursday, ten further people also died from the virus, taking the total in Wales to 1,698.

Dr Giri Shankar of Public Health Wales said that it was "vital" the population continued to follow government guidance to slow the spread of the virus, echoing the concerns from Dr Andrew Goodall.

What does the future hold?

Could Wales be heading for a national lockdown to try and slow the spread of the virus?

The Welsh Government is "actively looking" at scientists' advice the UK Government allegedly rejected for an immediate two or three week national lockdown.

It said there is a "growing consensus" a different set of measures and actions are needed to respond to the rising rates of coronavirus during winter.

ITV Wales' Political Editor Adrian Masters said: "I’ve described this stage of pandemic-making as “very big, very scary and very decisive” and the emphasis is on the decisive with the decision-making of ministers under scrutiny like never before."