Keep Nightingale ready for a year in case of more Covid-19 peaks, doctor urges

The 4,000-bed Nightingale hospital in London’s Docklands will need to be kept on standby for another year in case there are further coronavirus peaks, a doctor working there has said.

The facility could close as soon as Wednesday with the remaining few patients sent to nearby hospitals, but it will remain ready to re-open within 72 hours if needed.

The doctor, who asked to remain anonymous, told the PA news agency that staff were convinced it was right to build the hospital – in just nine days – to help cope with the pandemic.

They said only about a dozen patients remain at the facility, which despite the large capacity never had a maximum number of patients at any one time of more than 100.

“We will stay until the last patient leaves, but there will be increasingly enormous pressure — the staff requirements to keep it going, it’s such a big unit.

“Even though there are only 12 patients, there is security, cleaning. It may go on a day or two longer beyond that, but no longer.

“By Wednesday there will be one or two left and I suspect they will be transferred to other intensive care units around London.”

The site will be mothballed, remaining in place and ready to re-open with 72 hours’ notice if needed.

The doctor said: “As social restrictions ease in the next month or so, we may get another peak. The virus may also be seasonal, so we may get an autumnal or winter peak.

“The ExCel needs to be kept, there’s no fixed date, but they will need to keep it into spring 2021. There will be security on site, but no clinical staff.”

Despite the decision to close the London site, an NHS Nightingale Hospital in Sunderland will be opened shortly.

However, the London doctor told PA: “I will be astonished if it opens. There must be ongoing negotiations about what to do with that. I am not privy to those conversations but the Nightingale Excel was the flagship.”

There are mixed feelings among staff about the decision to close down the ExCel site, with some fearing it could become a “white elephant”, and that there will be criticism of the decision to build the hospitals in the first place.

“On the one hand everyone is really pleased we never filled it, but people did volunteer for that and they stepped forward willing to work on it,” the doctor said.

“A lot of people have invested huge energy and time and I think there is some deflation that they didn’t get to do what they signed up to do. They wanted to help and they didn’t get to give that help, but they are still glad it wasn’t needed.

“I think for NHS staff there is an anxiety that they will be associated with it negatively. Was it a foolish thing for them? I think the staff will know it was right to build it.

“It would have been awful to be in the opposite situation.”

They said despite the seeming drop in the numbers of people dying from coronavirus, the pandemic was far from over: “The numbers are dropping because people are still socially distancing but it is still out there.

“I think the infection will continue over the next year until a vaccine is successfully trialled and introduced.”