London’s NHS Field Hospital to Be Closed After Barely Being Used

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 30: A general view of the NHS Nightingale hospital at the Excel on March 30, 2020 in London, England. The field hospital will initially contain 500 beds with ventilators and oxygen and will have the capacity to eventually hold up to 4,000 COVID-19 patients. (Photo by …
Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The 4,000-bed field hospital NHS Nightingale London, the jewel in the crown of the government’s emergency coronavirus planning, will be “placed on standby” from next week.

Officially opened on April 3rd, the facility was set up in the ExCeL Centre in east London in preparation of a predicted influx of coronavirus patients, but has reportedly not treated more than 40 COVID-19 patients at a time.

“It is likely that in the coming days we will not need to be admitting patients to the London Nightingale, while coronavirus in the capital remains under control,” the chief executive of the field hospital, Professor Charles Knight, told staff.

“As a result, after the last of this our first group of patients leaves, the hospital will be placed on standby, ready to resume operations as and when needed in the weeks and potentially months to come,” he added, according to The Times.

While other Nightingale field hospitals across the country continue to receive patients, the London Nightingale will be put on standby in anticipation of another wave of the Chinese virus.

Number 10 has said that the fact that the hospital has barely been used is a sign that the government’s strategy has kept the virus at bay. However, there have been concerns raised after reports emerged that hospital administrators at the London Nightingale had turned down patients.

Internal National Health Services documents revealed last month that London Nightingale had turned away critically ill patients because they lacked enough Intensive Care Unit (ICU) staff. Other patients were rejected because they were “too unwell to transfer”.

Critics have also said that the hospital, built in nine days under the coordination of the military’s COVID Support Force, was founded as a PR stunt, its use was unclear, and it was given priority of equipment over other hospitals.

“It was a valiant attempt but came too late, so ended up being a white elephant. It was not a useful policy since it turned away more patients than it treated. It seems like it was more a PR exercise, a bit of wartime propaganda,” one Nightingale staff told The Guardian on Monday.

The hospital also excluded older and frail patients, treating instead those that were fitter and younger, despite older demographics being more at risk.

There has been increasing concern over the treatment of older people during the pandemic, with care homes becoming the forgotten frontline in the fight against coronavirus, and that the government underestimated the risk elderly care home residents faced. There were also claims that the government has been slow to ensure social care facilities, many privately run, had not received enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff.

Until recently, only coronavirus deaths in hospital were included in the daily fatalities reports, with deaths such as in senior care homes being reported periodically by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The government announced last week that it would be including care home deaths in its daily reporting after a sharp rise of more than 4,343 deaths in English and Welsh care homes in just two weeks. Half of those deaths had occurred in the last five days of the reporting period, suggesting an accelerated fatality toll.

On Tuesday, the UK topped Italy for having the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe, with 32,313 deaths, that figure derived by Reuters, the calculation based on adding the ONS figures on England and Wales (29,648) plus separate counts from Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Deaths in care homes in England and Wales hit 6,686 to May 1st, according to ONS figures. Professor David Spiegelhalter, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), claimed that coronavirus deaths in care homes had exceeded those in hospitals.

“I can be pretty confident that these [lines representing deaths in care homes and hospitals] have actually crossed a week or so ago with more COVID deaths happening out of hospital than in hospital. We won’t know for sure until next week, but I think it’s a reasonably confident conclusion,” Prof Spiegelhalter said, according to The Guardian.

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