Today
Sat 17 April 2021

Sam Bright reports on how Birmingham’s flagship facility has been free of patients since Prince William opened the hospital in April

Birmingham’s emergency Nightingale Hospital, designed to cope with a surge in COVID-19 cases, has not admitted a single patient in eight months, Byline Times can reveal.

Costing a reported £66.7 million, the hospital opened on 16 April as part of a Government effort to boost NHS bed capacity. The hospital has 496 beds divided into four wards, which can rapidly increase to 800 beds if needed. The emergency facility, constructed inside the National Exhibition Centre in Solihull, has a maximum capacity of 4,000 beds.

However, despite expecting to receive its first patients in mid-April, the hospital hadn’t received any patients as of 8 December. “No patients have been admitted to the hospital because the additional capacity has not yet been required,” said Edward Agar, Minister of State for Health, in response to a written Parliamentary question from Labour MP Matt Western. “However, the hospital remains on standby ready to play whatever role is needed in the months to come.”

During the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, in March this year, a number of Nightingale hospitals were rapidly constructed across the UK to provide backup capacity and relieve pressure on the NHS. “The Nightingale hospitals will rightly go down as landmarks in the history of the NHS,” Prince William said, when opening the centre in Birmingham.

By September, seven Nightingale hospitals had been constructed across the country, with a total cost of £220 million, though few have been used during the pandemic. In May, London’s Nightingale facility was mothballed after treating just 54 patients.

It has been noted that although the hospitals increased bed capacity, the NHS lacked the resources – namely staff – to make use of them. The website NursingNotes, for example, highlights that there are currently 43,000 nursing vacancies in England alone. “Why do we allow politicians to gaslight us into thinking that we can just put some prefabricated units together and call it a hospital?” Anthony Johnson, lead organiser for the grassroots group Nurses United UK told the website. “To have a hospital you need staff.”

Ultimately, the beds also haven’t been used because other NHS facilities have been able to cope with the number of patients – despite the UK suffering one of the worst outbreaks of the disease in Europe.

That’s why, when the London Nightingale announced it was going into standby, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “It’s absolutely fantastic for the nation that we haven’t had to fill up a 4,000-bed hospital with people with coronavirus. It’s good.”

However, there are obvious questions around value for money and the effective deployment of resources – two nagging issues that have plagued the Government’s response to COVID-19.


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